Guest Essays, Letters to the Editor, Opinion

Guest essay: Celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day with free event

by Cari Carpenter

The City of Morgantown, one of hundreds of places proclaiming the second Tuesday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, is the site of the Oct. 9-10 free public forum “This Land Was Already Loved.”

WVU’s Native American Studies Program welcomes esteemed leaders from the Shawnee Tribe, Eastern Shawnee Tribe, Delaware Nation, Delaware Tribe of Indians, Cherokee Nation and Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy for this historic forum. They will discuss their nations’ ancestral connections to West Virginia, providing Indigenous perspectives on history, culture and outlooks for the future.

We are so fortunate to have these important leaders visit our town for this pivotal occasion. Their presentations will help answer some of the lingering questions everyday West Virginians have about the state’s first peoples.

The Haudenosaunee nations, the Shawnee, Lenape (Delaware), Cherokee and other historic tribes regard West Virginia as being within their ancestral lands, and there are still individual descendants living here today. The U.S. has more than 570 federally-recognized Native Nations, and the 2020 Census cites nearly 10 million Native people nationwide.

Indigenous people, also referred to collectively in the U.S. as Native Americans or American Indians and Alaska Natives, have lived upon this land since time immemorial. This is evidenced by both oral history and archaeological sites in Morgantown and throughout our state. The nearby 2,000-year-old Hopewell Earthworks in Ohio were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site just last month.

As a professor who has taught Native American literature for 20 years, I cannot express how excited I am to have the opportunity to witness this event firsthand. I am especially eager to hear renowned Haudenosaunee Faithkeeper Oren Lyons give the keynote, “Truth to power: History from Indigenous perspectives” tomorrow, Oct. 9, at 6 p.m. in the Gluck Theater of the Student Union.

I also look forward to the comments from Shawnee Tribe Chief Ben Barnes, Eastern Shawnee Tribe Chief Glenna Wallace, Delaware Nation President Deborah Dotson, Delaware Tribe of Indians Chief Brad KillsCrow and Cherokee Nation representative Catherine Foreman Gray, along with singer John Block (Seneca Nation) and musician Boe Nakakakena Harris (Turtle Mountain Chippewa).

I now echo the words of Mayor Selin’s proclamation, encouraging continued recognition, appreciation and celebration of Indigenous People through goodwill, respect and friendship. I strongly encourage individual residents, schools, businesses, public and private organizations and other community partners to join with communities across America to promote the well-being of Indigenous people, pledging to become more informed, educated and engaged.

Cari Carpenter has been a professor of English and Native American Studies at West Virginia University since 2004.  She is the author of three books on Native Americans in the 19th century: Selected Writings of Ora Eddleman Reed, Writer, and Editor, and Activist of Cherokee Rights; The Newspaper Warrior: Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins’s Campaign for American Indian Rights, 1864-1891; and Seeing Red: Anger, Sentimentality, and American Indians.