Education and entrepreneurship focus of VCI conference

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CHARLES CITY, Va. – The Virginia Council on Indians held its annual conference on Indian affairs at the Chickahominy Tribal Center in Charles City, Va. March 28. The theme of the one-day event was “Ownership of Our Past, Present and Future through Education and Entrepreneurship.”

Conference participants included American Indian high school students and Virginia Indian tribal members. Attendees listened to discussions on college preparation, business opportunities and archeological findings in Virginia.

Former Pamunkey tribal and current VCI Chairman Bill Miles addressed the crowd before the day’s events. “I can’t emphasize enough how important education is, I am pleased to see such a tremendous crowd.”

“In order for Native people to be who we can be, we have got to step it up. Life is not a spectator sport,” said Chickahominy Chief Stephen Adkins. “Sitting on the sidelines does not make history. Education provides a key that unlocks many doors.”

The keynote speaker was Dana Martin Johnson, Sappony, an award-winning attorney and American Indian law professor at the University of Richmond. “Although I believe all of God’s people are my family, certainly Native people are near and dear to my heart.”

Johnson spoke about her relatives who attended Indian boarding schools. “The Home Economics teacher didn’t know how to sew, and the English teacher couldn’t read past a third grade level. Even though my relatives were getting a sub-standard education, they were still taking advantage of every opportunity afforded to them.”

Johnson explained the importance of education. “Three-quarters of the fastest growing occupations today require a college degree. About half of our workforce has that.” She said education plays a much larger role in the well-being of Native people than many realize. “One of the highest risk factors for criminal involvement for people under the age of 18 is the educational level of the parents. That is scary.”

After Johnson’s speech, representatives from Virginia colleges and universities talked to potential American Indian students about preparing for college.

After those presentations, Bacone College representative Cedric Sunray, Mowa Band of Choctaw, addressed the crowd in his native Choctaw language, then offered any interested American Indian students a $6,000 scholarship on the spot if they wanted to attend the college in Oklahoma.

Sunray spoke of a 700-mile train ride

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tribal member Gallasneed Weaver took to receive an Indian education because “the white and black schools in his area would not allow him to get an education.” He received an education, got a college degree and had a professional sports career, then served as a principal at the same school that didn’t let him attend as a child.

“If any of you want to go to a large public school, Bacone is not for you. Bacone is a $20,000 a year liberal arts school. However, with the scholarship we offer, and me doing what I can to help you, the average cost for American Indian students is $2,000 a year at Bacone. My phone is on 24 hours a day to help you.”

That day, 10 American Indian students signed up.

American Indian business owners listened to a discussion by Samuel Hayes III from the Virginia Department of Minority Business Enterprise regarding minority business contracting opportunities in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

“As an individual that has Native ancestry, I would like to see greater opportunities expended to this community. The American Indian community has the lowest participation and percentage of contracts with the Commonwealth. My hope would be for the American Indian community to gain certification in the Disadvantaged Businesses Enterprise and the Small, Women and Minority Programs so that they may compete and hopefully gain contracting opportunities.”

Virginia Indians learned about archeological projects in Virginia regarding the Monacan and the Chickahominy tribes. One of the discussions was about a collaborative effort between Virginia archeologists and the Monacans, which resulted in the eventual return of ancestral remains.

After the presentations, Delegate Chris Peace presented tribal members with copies of House Resolution 680, which establishes a commemorative commission to honor the life, achievements and legacy of Virginia Indian tribes with a commemorative memorial on Capitol Square in Virginia.