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May 28, 2000 - Native Americans Object to Jamestown 'Celebration' - 2002-02-16

INTRO: Language and culture often go hand-in-hand. But in the state of Virginia, that relationship finds itself strained by a single word, in a debate as old as America itself.

VOA Wordmaster Avi Arditti explains.

AA: Officials in Virginia have decided to stop using the word "celebration" in connection with the four-hundredth anniversary of Jamestown. Established in 1607, Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in the New World. It's an event that descendents of the Native Americans who were already here -- and the African slaves who came later -- find hard to celebrate.

Virginia hopes to put on one of the biggest tourist attractions of 2007 -- complete with a naval flotilla. Yet the group organizing the year-long observance has already had to change course. The planning committee no longer calls itself "Celebration 2007." The committee's name is now "Jamestown 2007."

Norman Beatty, director of the committee, explains why the word "celebration" was dropped.


"There's going to be plenty of reason to be celebrating in 2007, but there will also be times for some very sober reflections on some very serious history and it needs to be told honestly. But I think it was clear that the word had a completely different meaning at least in inference to the Virginia Indians and I think to a degree the African Americans felt the same way."

AA: Norman Beatty says there's 400 years of history to consider.


"Not all that history was fun and growth and happiness, and we said we agree 100 percent. And to try to hide that would be to subvert the whole point of this commemoration. We need to tell that story honestly, [and] it needs in large measure to be told by the people who are the descendants of those cultures. And so I think there were other indications besides the Virginia Indians that the word `celebration' was probably not the word we were looking for."

AA: The planners have already started to sample public opinion to try to find a name for the event.


"Last year we did focus group interviews in and outside the state and the two that came back strongest, one was called `the Spirit of Discovery' and the other one was called `the Spirit of Freedom.' They're hitting around there somewhere, but we haven't got it really pinned down now, so we'll be looking for public input and probably hiring some consultants to assist us."

ARDITT: "So you're looking for basically a neutral term that causes the least offense, to the fewest people?"

BEATTY: "We don't want to offend anyone but we also want to create some excitement."

AA: "What's wrong with just plain old `Jamestown 2007'?"

BEATTY: "Well, right now that's what we're calling our planning organization, and people refer to us as that and that's what they think when they think about 2007. It may turn out to be that, but I'd like to believe - I don't know how many people that's going to cause to come to Virginia for the first time in their lives or come for that particular year."

MARY WADE: "We've all along, as far as the Virginia Council on Indians and the Indian people in Virginia, merely just said, `Jamestown 2007.'"

AA: Mary Wade is a member of the Virginia Council on Indians and the Monacan Indian Nation.


"Because most people are familiar with Jamestown and 2007 is 400 years since the inception of the settlers here."

AA: "So you would rather they just keep it Jamestown 2007, not `occasion,' `commemoration'.

WADE: "I think they have used the word commemoration several times. I don't think we have a problem with that. But again, like I said, most people know what Jamestown is.

That's the first settlement in this country."

AA: Mary Wade says she's not against promoting tourism, but as for "celebrating":


"You can't celebrate an invasion."

AA: Nevertheless, she says Indian tribes may take part in some of the activities, much as their ancestors helped the newcomers at Jamestown.


WADE: "But in return they were pushed back off of their land, even killed. Whole tribes were annihilated. A lot of people carry that oral history with them, and that's why they use the word `invasion,' because it truly was an invasion, and I'm sure some of the Indian people will probably want to tell that as a part of the story of 400 years."

AA: "And do you think they'll have that opportunity to do that?"

WADE: "I know we're going to try our best to reiterate that to Jamestown and the steering committee. The council now has a person on that steering committee who was just appointed. And he is from the Chickahominy Indian tribe, which is probably the closest tribe to Jamestown. I think they've come to the conclusion that the Indian people here aren't going to be quiet. The quiet days of the Indians are gone."

AA: The Jamestown planners say finding a name for the observance in 2007 could take as long as two years.

That's all for Wordmaster this week. Without Rosanne Skirble - she's back next week -- I'm Avi Arditti.

MUSIC: "Jamestown"/Ray Charles Singers (1957)