Virginia; NATIVE AMERICANS WITH TRADITION
"Why have you and your friends come to this country?" asked Chief Powhatan of the captive explorer Captain John Smith in December 1607. That sensible question has never been answered to the complete satisfaction of the Virginia Indian tribes.Skip to next paragraph
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The numbers of this proud people, once declining, are now increasing. And their heritage and traditions have, in many ways, remained intact for more than four centuries and prevented their cultural annihilation.
When King Gustav VI Adolf of Sweden toured the Jamestown Festival Park several years ago, he diffidently asked whether he might meet a native American before leaving. "That will not be difficult," smiled his guide, introducing O. Oliver (Lone Eagle) Adkins, chief of the Chickahominy Indian Tribe, who was lecturing on Indian history in the park's reconstructed long house. He has also taught at the Syms-Eaton Museum in Hampton. A gentle, kindly man, he is conversant with tribal history and eager to share his knowledge.
Before the Treaty of 1677, when the Chickahominy surrendered their land, they had about 6,000 acres. "We lost everything we had, and almost our very identity ," says Chief Adkins. "Our history might not be as we wish it, but I give it as it is." The treaty announced that "The Respective Indian Kings and Queens doe henceforth acknowledge their immediate dependency on, and Own all Subjection to, the Great King of England, Our now dread Soveraigne."
The Chickahominy are located in Charles City County about 25 miles east of Richmond. Their identity has been preserved, and today about 700 Chickahominy Indians are incorporated as a tribal group under the leadership of Chief Adkins and a board of directors. Most members of the tribe work in Newport News, Richmond, or Hampton.
Chief Adkins has been active in Indian affairs on a national level and was instrumental in seeing that Title IV funds were extended to the Indians east of the Mississippi. Many Indian young people now attend college.
The Chickahominy Indian Fall Festival, held at the new Tribal Center in late September, plays an important part in unifying the tribe. "We are different from the Indians out West; we welcome outsiders to our ceremonial dances," says Adkins. Non-Indians often participate in the ceremonies. "We don't anticipate animosity," he says with a twinkle. The program usually features prayers, dances, anthems, the crowning of Miss Chickahominy, and speeches.
There are other scattered tribes in Virginia, but the most numerous, in addition to the Chickahominy, are the Mattaponi and the Pamunkey, who occupy the only remaining state reservations.
The 125-acre Mattaponi Reservation is in King William County 13 miles west of West Point, Va. The Mattaponi were one of the 32 tribes once ruled by Chief Powhatan and were among the last to sign the Treaty of Peace. The reservation was confirmed in 1658 by an act of the Virginia Grand Assembly. Many visits were made to the site of the current reservation by Powhatan and his brother Opechaneough, whose seat was at West Point.
Chief Jacob V. (Thundercloud) Custalow presides over the tribal museum, to which visitors are welcomed. He conducts a spirited tour, incorporating a lecture about Indian life and customs. "The culture of the Indians of yesterday was wood, stone, and bone," he explains, displaying a wooden mortar, stone knife , stone frying pan, axes, chisels, arrowheads, and many other artifacts.
The museum contains such interesting items as a loon headdress decoy and mounted birds, among them an osprey and a bufflehead duck. A necklace said to have been worn by Pocahontas and a tomahawk used by Opechaneough in the battles of 1622 and 1644 are on exhibit. Outside is a centuries-old canoe, burned out rather than dug out (a more efficient process); it was discovered by Chief Custalow in the Mattaponi River.