BLACKSBURG, Va. (WFXR) – The native community at Virginia Tech is small but mighty, according to the student organization Native at VT.
President Leilani Gantt is a member of the Yup’ik tribe in Alaska, just one of the multiple native communities represented at Tech’s Indigenous Peoples Day celebration.
“Why it’s so important today is basically to just raise awareness that we are still here,” she explained.
Non-native students and faculty joined Native at VT to honor and learn about indigenous cultures. Gannt says while the native population at Tech isn’t very big, they have several events year-round and are active on campus.
“We’re students attending a university that was never made for us to attend, so we find a lot of empowerment getting an education here, knowing that our ancestors never were able to,” she said.
Virginia Tech is on land historically belonging to the Monacan-Tutelo people, and in 2019, Indigenous students pushed through a resolution making Indigenous Peoples Day an official holiday at the university. Mark Owczarski, a spokesperson for Tech, says the university has a responsibility to recognize native culture.
“In 1872, this university was founded on indigenous land, and so we honor that culture, we honor those individuals, we honor its place in our history,” he said.
The Indigenous Peoples Day event served native food made with ingredients grown on campus, offered a clothing exhibit, and shared music by Lumbee-Tuscarora native Charly Lowry.
“There’s a lot of people that still don’t believe that there are indigenous people on the eastern seaboard that are alive and thriving, and so I think it’s important for me to be here today to share music that raises issues that are affecting our tribal communities,” she said.
The school’s celebrations also included a panel discussion in the morning and were finished with keynote speaker Charlie Amaya Scott, a Navajo activist.