JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — In 2018, Gov. Roy Cooper proclaimed the second Monday in October, commonly known as Columbus Day, as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Many other states around the country have done the same.
North Carolina is home to more than 122,000 American Indians and eight historic tribes. One Native American veteran in Onslow County, Raquel Painter, explained why it was difficult to celebrate Columbus Day when she was growing up.
“You know, I’ll use one example, you know when in school, when we were celebrating pilgrims and natives, I had to be a pilgrim because all the females had to be pilgrims,” Painter said. “So that was very difficult … knowing that that’s not where my history came from, you know, I wanted to be the Native American standing on the stage.”
Painter is a retired Marine and Santee-Sioux from the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. She said she is proud of how far we have come in recognizing diverse cultures, but there is more work to be done.
“I think there’s still a lot of learning that has to occur, and not just with indigenous people but for all the ethnicities and cultures that are in the community to really celebrate and learn from each other,” Painter said.
Onslow County Museum Director Lisa Whitman-Grice said learning about native people is crucial in understanding the history of our area.
“These are the first peoples who lived on this land, who utilized these natural resources, who came not hundreds, but thousands of years before before the first Europeans arrived here,” said Grice.
Painter said her family celebrates this day by telling stories of their history and enjoying some traditional food.
“I hate to brag, but I make some really good frybread. So that is what we’ll be having today,” Painter said.
Grice said North Carolina has the largest population of Native people east of the Mississippi.