NAIC hosts first talk in a yearlong series

“The Indigenous Peoples of the Interior of Virginia” kicks off lecture series

Lea Borner

On Sept. 20, Victoria Persinger Ferguson visited campus to give a talk on her Indigenous heritage and Indigenous history from the Woodland Period up until today. 

This is the first talk in a yearlong series hosted by the Native American and Indigenous Cohort. It was called “Indigenous in Rockbridge and the Interior: First Peoples, Land and Sustainability.”

Ferguson is part of the Monacan Indian Nation, a federally recognized tribe, and manager of the Monacan Living History Exhibit located at Natural Bridge State Park.

Her goal is to protect and preserve Indigenous knowledge, keep traditions alive and empower her people.

 “For the past 25 years of my life, I have tried to bridge the information from our Native perspective to the general population. I have fought for equal rights for people of color since the first time I asked if I could be a cheerleader as a person of color back in grade school,” Ferguson said.

Her talk focused on the history of her Siouan Tribe, the Monacans, from their early life 10,000 years before the settlers arrived to their life nowadays. She tells a story of disease, stolen land, and betrayal by European allies and laws passed to restrict the rights of people of color. 

She also spoke of her peoples’ fight for governmental recognition. 

In 1989, after harsh negotiation, the Monacan finally reached their goal and became officially recognized by the state. 

“We have fought for our right to call ourselves Monacan. We were the first to be welcoming and the last to be recognized,” Ferguson said. 

In her lecture, Ferguson explained that before the first Spanish explorers arrived in the 1500s, this region was home of the Eastern Siouan people for centuries, and they continue living here today. 

However, in the years to come, Ferguson said, their stories were spread by white, male settlers, who had no deeper understanding of the culture they described.

In order to reclaim these stories, two groups have formed on campus.

The Native American and Indigenous Cohort founded by faculty and staff is joined by a new student organization, the Native American Student Organization. 

Ella Powers, ’22, a founding member of NASO, said their goal is to turn histories over to people they belong to. She said Ferguson’s talk was a starting point. 

“She is really going to lay the groundwork for students on campus to know the history and know about the people who lived here first,” said Powers. 

People still don’t know much about this land they’re on, she said. 

“I think we are starting to have conversations about it,” Powers said. “It’s important to know about the land we’re on, maybe not all the history but at least some of it. In these last few years, we had a lot of these conversations about the history of this school, this place. Starting with the people who were here first is a baseline.”

The next talk of the Native American and Indigenous Cohort series is scheduled for Oct. 18 at 7p.m., featuring Dr. Elizabeth Rule, who will talk about Native Americans and blood quantum.