The Virginia Indian Mantle, to be built by Mohawk Artist Alan Michelson, is a monument to recognize American Indian Tribes in Virginia.
On Saturday, June 24, 2017, the Virginia Indian Commemorative Commission and the Virginia Capitol Foundation hosted a groundbreaking celebration for a Virginia Indian Monument or Virginia Indian Mantle, to be constructed on Capitol Square in Richmond. This monument, entitled “Mantle,” recognizes the lasting legacy and significance of American Indians in the Commonwealth.
The featured speaker at the groundbreaking celebration for the Virginia Indian Mantle was Billy Mills, member of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) tribe and the Olympic gold medal winner of the 10,000 meter run in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. In addition to Billy Mills, Six Nations Mohawk artist Alan Michelson, who will be constructing the monument, was there, as well as representatives and tribal members from tribes in the state of Virginia.
Olympian Billy Mills told ICMN, “This Virginia Indian Mantle can facilitate real change here in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This mantle can serve as a reminder to tell us the stories of our pasts, to the footprints laid. I am proud to be a small part of this and to be here by invitation of the tribal leaders. To be here is an honor to be on their sacred lands.”
Mills also said that though Virginia tribes have descendancy to Pocahontas and some of the oldest reservations in the United States, some are still fighting for federal recognition.
“What is sad is that when the Queen of England visited, she asked on behalf of the tribes to give them federal recognition. Her voice was not heard. But this part of our history is now being taught across the world. This is something we do not teach here, we all need to come together,” said Mills.
“This is a glorious day to celebrate the recognition of the contributions of Virginia Indians of the past, present and future,” said Vice Chair of the Virginia Indian Commemorative Commission and Virginia Delegate Christopher K. Peace. “This monument is a living tribute to the indigenous peoples of the Commonwealth.”
According to a release, an artistic competition was held in 2013, and the Virginia Indian Commemorative Commission selected Six Nations Mohawk artist Alan Michelson’s Mantle as the winning design for the Virginia Indian Mantle.
As Michelson explains, “Mantle requires the visitor to neither look up nor look down, but invites one to enter – from the east – and participate in it. It is not conceived as a static monument to be venerated but an active one to be experienced by moving off the everyday grid and into the American Indian circle.”
The Mantle will be in the shape of a nautilus, and according to Michelson, the swirling design is a tribute to the Powhatan people, who incorporated the design in their culture and regalia.
During his speech at the commemoration, Michelson explained.
“Mantle is based on the large deerskin mantle in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, which was catalogued as follows in 1656: Pohatan, King of Virginia’s habit all embroidered with shells, or Roanoke. Some historians think the 34 white embroidered disks on the deerskin, each comprised of hundreds of tiny shells sewn in a spiral pattern, represent the constituent nations of the Powhatan Confederacy, whose traditional homelands include the site on which we are now gathered, so in that respect the mantle is a map or a landscape.”
“Spirals are one of nature’s fundamental forms, present not only in shells like the Nautilus but also in the growth pattern of plants and trees. I wanted my design to embody not only the landscape past and present but the sacred harmonies underpinning and uniting all life here on Turtle Island, here in Tsenacommacah, and all of the land now called Virginia.
The Virginia Capitol Foundation described the monument in their release.
Mantle will feature a five-foot wide winding footpath that will follow the outline of the monument, rising from and returning to the earth. In addition to the path, there will be a continuous, smooth stone wall, which will also serve as a bench. Natural landscaping, an infinity pool, and other natural elements that are significant to the region and its native inhabitants will be incorporated.
The Virginia Indian Tribute will serve as a meditation space where visitors can either walk the labyrinth or sit and contemplate. It will also be a lovely, informal spot for people to meet. As a communal area, Mantle creates a respectful relationship with the surrounding natural world, reflecting the positive values which set the Indians apart from other cultures.
After the initial groundbreaking ceremony for the Virginia Indian Mantle, Virginia tribal leaders, Commonwealth of Virginia Dignitaries and Billy Mills and Alan Michelson and their families attended a celebratory luncheon.
Guests were treated to a video of Billy Mills winning a gold medal in the 10,000 meter run in Japan and lively remarks by Mills who said he “thought of giving up, but saw his wife’s face in the crowd,” he also said he wanted to win for the Native kids back home.
At the end of the lunch several notables involved in the commission of the monument were given specially-made pendleton blankets with the image of Billy Mills winning the gold medal.
In closing of the day’s events, Chickahominy Chief Steve Adkins addressed the crowd with a powerful statement regarding the Virginia Indian Mantle.
“The Commonwealth of Virginia has held Indian history and Black history hostage for years,” he said.
“I demand that people stand up and do something about this. Demand that our social studies programs tell the real story…Virginia’s abuse of its Indigenous people is a black mark on Virginia’s history, but it needs to be told,” said Adkins.
“Today, a page in our Virginia history is turning.”