Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Hampton’s Heritage Day brings a new perspective of indigenous people, enslaved persons

The 2019 Hampton Heritage Day is on Saturday (WYDaily Photo/ Courtesy of the City of Hampton)
The 2019 Hampton Heritage Day is on Saturday (WYDaily Photo/ Courtesy of the City of Hampton)

The annual Hampton Heritage Day is known for showcasing the history in Hampton and in past years, the forgotten narrative of the Native American nations.

“We thought it was important to the tell the story of Native Americans that were here before the settlers came and slaves that were brought here against their will and 1619,” said Seamus McGann, spokesman for the Hampton History Museum.

The event costs $20,000 — $10,000 from the National Park Service and $10,000 form the Hampton History Museum Association, a nonprofit which donated the museum to the city. Other sponsors include the Hampton Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Hampton 2019 Commemoration Commission.

While the event in previous years was held in conjunction with the International Children’s Festival in April, Hampton Heritage Day is separate this year to include more Native American tribes since it is a busy time of year for pow wows and events, McGann said.

Last year, 12,000 people attended both events.

Diane and Greg Stephenson both members of the Meherrin nation and joined the planning commission seven years ago after they saw an ad in the newspaper, attended the event and noticed it was lacking in content — primarily the history of indigenous people.

The couple joined to educate others about the Native American tribes and to give people a truer narrative than what has been shown in the past.

“We now have nations from ‘Turtle Island’, from the north, south, east and west ––– what you call the U.S.” said Greg Stephenson, a retired 30-year Air Force Veteran.

“No one was just in Hampton,” Diane Stephenson.

Greg Stephenson said his ancestors attended Hampton Agricultural Institute, a Native American boarding school, or what is now known as Hampton University, and the school plays a part in Heritage Day by lending traveling exhibits.

This year, Hampton Heritage Day is bringing back smoke dances and the Native Pride Dances, which debuted last year, and for the first time, language classes taught by Greg Stephenson.

Diane Stephenson, a registered hospice nurse, teaches finger weaving.

“We practice our ceremonies, our language and our culture,” she said. “We try to explain to them and to try and open their horizons.”

Wayne Brown, the Meherrin nation’s chief, died recently, and the event plans to have an opening dedication in remembrance of him.

“He was a superb orator,” Greg Stephenson said.

Diane Stephenson said she feels the event is exciting since it is a positive day where people can come together to talk and bring about healing. There is a saying, she noted, called Two Row Wampum.

“There are plenty for everyone, lets just move forward together,” she said. “Nobody needs to take over.”

Hampton Heritage Day is at Mill Point Park, 100 Eaton St. on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She covers everything on the Peninsula from local government and law enforcement agencies to family-run businesses and weather updates. Before WYDaily, she covered Hampton and Newport News for WYDaily’s sister publication, HNNDaily before both publications merged in December 2018. Julia was born in Tokyo, Japan and moved to Long Island, New York in 2001. A true New Yorker, she loves pizza, bagels and good Chinese food. Send comments, tips and other tidbits to You can follow her on Twitter at @jmarsigliano

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