Food For Thought

Jamestown 2007: A Native American Perspective 

 

by Chief Ken Adams, Contributing Columnist

Jamestown 2007. Say those words aloud to any Virginian and you are almost sure to get a response. Say those words aloud to any Virginia Indian and that response could be anything from outright disgust to, “This is an opportunity to tell our story.” I must say, I have strong feelings of sadness surrounding Jamestown 2007, but yet welcome the opportunity to let Virginia and the world know the whole story about what truly happened to Virginia Indians. Sadness, because the story for me and many other Virginia Indians is a story of sorrow and pain; a story of growing up in a society where Indian culture had almost been completely destroyed.

I grew up in rural Virginia with three separate school systems: the segregated system we all know about, plus a totally separate system for Native Americans. The Sharon Indian School typically had 30 to 40 children from grades 1 through 7. As children got older, sometimes the grade level would reach as high as the 10th, but because of this grade limitation, no one ever graduated from the Sharon Indian School. Therefore, most of the adults could barely read or write. Fortunately, those dark days are years behind us and for the most part Indians in Virginia are treated with dignity and respect.

The process of getting to this point started at Jamestown in 1607, and now we are rapidly approaching 2007, the 400th anniversary of the settling of Jamestown. When the settlers reached Jamestown, conflict with Indians began almost immediately. Of course, the Indians could not possibly want these people invading their homeland. Would you? Today, we have private citizens patrolling the United States border with Mexico to help keep out illegal aliens. To the Virginia Indians, the first British settlers were illegal aliens. The British government finally sent enough people to take over all the land, which the Indians owned, and in the process of the wars that followed, 90 percent of an entire human race of people died. I cannot believe that it was the desire of God Almighty that 90 percent of an entire race of His people die. After all, “For God so Loved the WORLD,” and that world also included the land of the Indians.

Our leaders talk about our nation being founded on Judeo-Christian principles. And yet the loss of life, liberty and land, experienced by many Native Americans, was in direct violation of these principles. In 1607, there were hundreds of Indian villages along the waterways of Virginia and now, sadly, on those same waterways there are only two: the Pamunkey and the Mattaponi.

The first treaties with the Indians were written at Jamestown. The first treaties with the Indians were broken at Jamestown. The pattern of broken and dishonored treaties, which began at Jamestown, continued westward to the Pacific Ocean. A broken treaty is nothing more than a broken promise, and even today, promises made by the United States government with the Indians of this land are not being honored. Many of those promises that were made through treaties have been affirmed by the United States Supreme Court for over 200 years. Some would say those treaties are ancient history. Would those same people say the Bill of Rights is ancient history? Is the Declaration of Independence ancient history?

Today, several of the Virginia tribes are attempting to get historical recognition from the United States government. For those tribes, it is the proper thing to do. For some representatives who oppose that process, they care not about the broken promises of the recent past. They care not that the Virginia General Assembly voted almost unanimously for this recognition. They care not that the people have spoken and asked for those representatives to help make this recognition a reality.

Where were they as my older brothers and sisters actually had to leave the Commonwealth of Virginia to get a high school education? Where were they when my father struggled to sign his own name because of broken promises? The process of my family having to leave the Commonwealth to get an education is part of the legacy of broken promises to the American Indian. It is time to rectify those failures of the past and encourage ALL congressmen representing this Commonwealth to join in the process of appropriate federal acknowledgement of Virginia’s first citizens. When that happens and Jamestown 2007 is mentioned, much of the sadness in my heart will be buried with our ancestors. Our ancestors will never experience the hope that America promises, but they will understand the Circle of Life that affects all Virginia Indians is under repair.

In all, 562 Indian tribes in this nation have this recognition relationship with the United States government, and the Virginia Indians should not be continually treated as undeserving of the same relationship. Virginia Indians were the first in America to have permanent and sustained contact with English settlers and still are not properly recognized as those 562 other tribes are. Is that going to be another sad legacy for this Commonwealth? In the wars of the 20th century, Virginia Indians fought and died for this land in support of the Constitution of the United States, even when they were being denied constitutional rights at home.

We Welcome Your Support

The time is now to right this wrong. We should have the same equality of relationship with federal government that all other federally recognized tribes have, with no abridgement of any right under the Constitution of this nation. We have fought and died for that equality, and I for one believe any fair-minded Virginian would support that recognition for the Commonwealth’s Native Americans, who are proud both of being Indians and of being Americans. We have waited far too long, and the commemoration of Jamestown 2007 will be incomplete and disheartening without appropriate and unabridged recognition of these Virginia tribes. For more information and to learn how you can help, visit the VITAL (Virginia Indian Tribal Alliance for Life) Web site at www.virginiaindians.homestead.com. 

Ken Adams is chief of the Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe. The Upper Mattaponi Tribe is part of VITAL,  an organization composed of six Virginia tribes seeking acknowledgement from the federal government.

What’s Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to: bsherrod@odec.com, or send written responses to the editor.  Mail will be forwarded to the author.

 

 

 

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