Friday, 6 November 2009

The Chickahominy

During September 2009, I had the honor of attending the Chickahominy powwow. Chickahominy translates to coarse-pounded-corn people, and powwow comes from the Algonquian word pau wau, which describes the spiritual leader. The English of the 17th century thought the word referred to the event and over time, Indian tribes have come to accept the definition. Non-native people may think of a powwow as entertainment, but the event is very sacred to Native people.

Before a powwow begins, the dance circle is blessed and becomes sacred ground for the duration of the event. Anyone entering the sacred circle walks or dances in a clockwise direction, and exits in the same place as their entrance. This action shows respect. During portions of the powwow, picture taking and sound recordings are not allowed due to the sacred ceremonies. For that reason, I have not included pictures out of respect because I did not ask for permission during the parts that allowed photography.

After a Grand Entry procession, Chief Stephen R. Adkins greeted dancers and attendees, much in the way the Chickahominy have greeted travelers for over 400 years. In the 17th century, the tribe was allied with but independent of the Powhatan chiefdom. Although culturally they were very similar, at the time of the arrival of the English colonists, the Chickahominy were governed by a council of eight elders or religious leaders, called the mungai (great men).

During the first few winters of Jamestown, the tribe aided the colonists by trading food for other goods. They also helped teach them how to plant and grow crops. As the colonists' settlements expanded, the Chickahominy became displaced, and tensions grew. In 1610, when the Paspahegh were virtually annihilated, the Chickahominy were also raided. Some say the remaining members of the Paspahegh were taken in by the Chickahominy.

In 1614, the tribe signed a treaty with Sir Thomas Dale, Governor of Jamestown. The Chickahominy agreed to provide corn to feed the colonists and send warriors to defend the settlement in return for keeping their own government. The following year, disease and drought were prevalent. The tribes' harvest was poor, and the colonists took their corn by force.

Over the years, the Chickahominy have lost more and more of their land, but unlike the Paspahegh, the tribe has survived to modern day. Now, along with five other Virginia tribes, they are trying to achieve Federal recognition as sovereign Indian nations, like some of the better known Western tribes. Their rallying cry has been, "First to greet. Last to be recognized." As Chief Adkins eloquently stated, "400 years is long enough."

Kim Murphy


Alison Stuart said...

What an interesting and special experience for you, Kim. I am really enjoying your insights into the ealy settlers reactions with the indigenous people. Sadly, so like our own, here in Australia.

Kim Murphy said...

Thanks, Alison. It doesn't surprise me the two continents share a similar experience. I would love reading more about the history of Australia.