Each November, we recognize Native American Heritage Month. It is dedicated to celebrating the rich and diverse cultures and traditions, and the important contributions of Native people and American Indian nations that have stood the test of time. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November 1990 as “National American Indian Heritage Month.” Similar proclamations, under variants of the name (including “Native American Heritage Month” and “National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month”) have been issued each year since 1994. It is also a state-designated recognition.
The lands that would later become known as Virginia have always been home to indigenous people, with an estimated population of 50,000 comprising at least 15 separate nations prior to the arrival of the English settlers.
Below I have listed the 11 state-recognized tribes in Virginia. The first seven tribes listed are also federally recognized.
* Pamunkey (Pamunkey River/King William County)
* Chickahominy (Charles City County)
* Eastern Chickahominy (New Kent County)
* Upper Mattaponi (King William County)
* Rappahannock (Indian Neck/King & Queen County)
* Monacan Indian Nation (Bear Mountain/Amherst County)
* Nansemond (Cities of Suffolk and Chesapeake)
* Mattaponi (Mattaponi River/King William County)
* Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) (Courtland/Southampton County)
* Nottoway of Virginia (Capron/Southampton County)
* Patowomeck (Stafford County)
This year, I worked with Virginia’s federally recognized tribes on several pieces of legislation related to tribal matters. HB 1136 created a code commission to review the Code of Virginia and recommend changes to the General Assembly that are needed to reflect the recent federal recognition of Tribal Nations that share territory with the Commonwealth. The Speaker’s office is tasked with forming this commission according to the law passed, and I have relayed to his office the representatives each tribe has selected to serve. As each established commission is required to submit an annual report on its interim activities and work by the first day of each regular session of the General Assembly (which will be Jan. 11, 2023), I expect the first meeting will occur in the coming weeks. I look forward to working with this commission and pursuing any legislative fixes that it will recommend. At the request of the tribes, I plan to reintroduce legislation that would require consulting with federally recognized Tribal Nations in the Commonwealth when evaluating certain permits and reviews with potential impacts on environmental, cultural, or historic resources or that would have tribal implications. Consultation at its core is a key element of recognition of tribal sovereignty.
There are many ways to celebrate Native American heritage, not just in November, but all year long. I encourage you to visit the National Museum of the American Indian in DC, and the Mantle monument in Capitol Square in Richmond (located beside the Bell Tower). You can also attend one of the many powwows held by Virginia Tribes each year. In fact, the Nottoway Tribe will be holding their 30th annual Corn Harvest Powwow this weekend, on Nov. 5-6. I was lucky to be able to attend two this year – the Rappahannock Powwow in King George, and the Monacan Nation’s Powwow in the Amherst area. This site collects information on tribal powwows in Virginia: https://calendar.powwows.com/events/categories/pow-wows/pow-wows-in-virginia/. I also recommend to you the 6th Annual Pocahontas Reframed film festival at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) in Richmond. The Festival aims to raise awareness about Native American language, cultures, and societies through films that share Native American perspectives and is the only one of its kind on the east coast. Notably, the VMFA board of directors is now led by Lynette Allston, Chief of the Nottoway Indian Tribe, the first Native American to hold the position.
Also, each year on the day before Thanksgiving, a ceremony as part of a peace treaty from 1677 continues to this day in which citizens of the Mattaponi and Pamunkey tribes deliver their traditional tax payment to the Governor on the grounds of the State Capitol in Richmond, usually a couple of deer and a turkey. I hope that you will consider visiting the Capitol in Richmond in front of the Governor’s mansion on the morning before Thanksgiving to witness this important tradition going back centuries and predating the establishment of our nation.
Knowledge of the history of Native Americans is essential to understanding our history. Their story is the origin story of Virginia and America, yet too few Americans know much about them. Native American Heritage Month celebrates the heritage of our Indigenous people and is an opportunity for both native and non-native to celebrate the many aspects of native culture, both historic and contemporary.