Virginia Indian Cultural Program to showcase past, present

When English settlers landed in Jamestown in 1607, many believed that Virginia Indians were primitive and savage. Aside from the story of Pocahontas, Indian life was overlooked when history books were written.

But the Indian tribes had rich and robust cultures refined over generations, brimming with arts and traditions including dancing, singing and crafts.

Though they weren’t always appreciated by white settlers, these arts continued to evolve.

“So many times, people expect our culture to be exactly like it was 400 years ago,” said Wayne Adkins, assistant chief of the Chickahominy Indian Tribe.

“Yes, people are doing traditional things like leatherwork, beadwork and pottery, but we have younger artists working in other materials.”

Modern creations incorporating centuries-old skills will be presented at the Virginia Indian Cultural Program March 19 at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen. It is part of Henrico County’s 400th Anniversary observation.

History and contemporary culture of Virginia Indian tribes will be presented through art, dance and exhibits. Indian artisans will display their pottery, beadwork, leatherwork, and painting, demonstrate their creative processes and discuss their work with the public.

History told through dance
One of the most spectacular – and most popular – components of the program will be the dancing.

The Virginia Indian Intertribal Drum and Dancers will tell stories of native history and culture by performing traditional and contemporary tribal dances. Dancers will explain the regalia they wear as well as the meaning and significance of each dance they perform.

“We have dancers from several different tribes,” said Adkins. “We’ve taken the dances that we have as individual tribes and taught them to one another. Plus, we have dances we’ve learned from other tribes at Powwows and other events. “

“So often, the general public thinks dances are just people jumping up and down, and they don’t realize most dances have a purpose. So while we’re entertaining, we’re educating.”

Celebrating 400+ years
The Virginia Indian Cultural Program was an initiative of the Commemoration of the Henrico 400th Anniversary Commission, said Karen Perkins, history manager for Henrico County’s Division of Recreation and Parks.

The program also will incorporate part of the “Beyond Jamestown” exhibit displayed at the state Capitol.

In The Cultural Arts Center’s Gallery, the exhibit, “By Our Hands: Virginia Indian Cultural Arts” will be on display through May 8.

The exhibit incorporates the artwork of contemporary Indian artists and artisans, including beadwork, leatherwork, wood carving and painting.

Also, a photography exhibit titled, “Family Portraits: Virginia Indians at the Turn of the 20th Century,” which features formal and informal portraits, will be on view.

Teaching Virginians about Native American culture is an ongoing process, said Adkins. He and other tribal elders work with Henricus Historical Park and other museums, the Indian tribes and Virginia educators to prepare materials for students. They want to ensure that Virginia schoolchildren are exposed to accurate information.

Eight tribes
Historians estimate that people lived in Virginia for more than 15,000 years before European contact.

Today, there are 11 tribes officially recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia. They include: Mattaponi; Pamunkey; Chickahominy; Eastern Chickahominy; Monacan Indian Nation; Nansemond; Rappahannock; Upper Mattaponi; Cheroenhaka (Nottoway); Nottoway of Virginia; Patawomeck

Two tribes, the Pamunkey and the Mattaponi, have small reservations in King William County, dating back several centuries.
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