Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Appalachian Native American Stories to Tell


There is one area I will be delving into in the future and it will not be easy. Not only because of the shape I am in, but also because it is a part of history that is just not easy to research or tell, but it's on my heart. That is what I know about the history of Indians in Appalachia.

A Native friend called me today and asked me if I had seen the special on C-Span about Werowocomoco Village. Powhatan's chief residence that was recently identified in the last 10 to 12 years. They are preserving and studying the site which is located on the York River and is SUCH an important historical site for Native American history in Virginia. Most of the tribal chiefs of the state tribes in Virginia were there at this event whose tribes were once part of this federation of tribes that dealt with the colonists at Jamestown. It brought up the remembrance of a long neglected history of our Appalachian mountains.

How many of us have the oral tradition that we had ancestors that were Native American? Yes, I know, there are many who laugh at that. Mainly because all we have are stories and not the actual proof of that history. Though DNA is helping. It is always told to be Cherokee, which those in the Native American community ridicule each time they hear it. I understand, but the history of the Cherokee in this area is pretty predominant. John Ross, one of the chiefs of the Cherokee at the time of removal in 1836, was actually 3/4 white and many were especially in the North Carolina mountains connected to that tribe.

I also think some of that is because in the early 1900's the Cherokee plight became so well known that the actual history of Native Heritage became mixed up with, "they had to be Cherokee". So many of those who did have a Native ancestor in the mountains had become so assimilated into white culture. They did not know the history that so many tribes were wiped out of existence. They didn't understand that the Cherokee were not the only tribe here or connected to Appalachia. 

It is also talked about as if it was most recent. When it could have occurred generations ago before the removal policies. It is also hard for those who are west of the Mississippi, in a later history that included segregated reservation systems, to comprehend what it was like to live in the East prior to and after those removal policies. But those stories need to be told.

In my own family it was something not to be talked about but more to be feared if it was found out. We knew and that was enough. In Virginia especially there was the assimilation with not only white but black ancestry with the persecution that follows that.

Natives were people of color.  I once was helping a woman trace her family tree. In some of the records she found, their family would be listed as white. In others listed as black or mulatto.  She did trace to some Saponi names but was quite upset when I told her they would be at times listed as people of color. She told me, "Those records could not be my family," because, " my ancestors were "white" Indians!" 

I really don't know what that is. Though it's popular today to claim Native ancestry, it is hard to get folks to understand this aspect of who they were and the times in which their ancestor had to live.

Mary Kegley wrote a wonderful book entitled, "Free In Chains", the story of Rachel Findlay who was Native American and enslaved. It is the story of Rachel and her family going through Virginia courts to gain their freedom before the Civil War. It is hard for some to come to grips that Virginia Indian history is tied to black history.

The records of Virginia and America still need to be combed to find and verify the history about Native Americans in Virginia and the mountains. It would also have to be an international search with England and France records, prior to the Revolutionary War. Plus we know there was a time in Virginia records were destroyed to hide native ancestry.

The history of the Native Americans in Virginia is a very long one and in modern times very much tied to race issues. In Virginia, we have a history of eugenics in our state government that had a big impact on Native Americans in our state.

But they are STILL HERE and we who are descendants are still here! The Virginia Indian Tribes the Pamunkey and the Mattaponi actually have the oldest reservations in the United States but they are not recognized by the federal government. They have fought to keep their culture and history.  An interesting article click here for the Pamunkey. One of the best sources about Pocahontas's people is to read Helen Rountree's works. But we are in the mountains and that story is just not yet written in it's entirety. Historians and researchers today are only scratching the surface.

I remember as a child looking at maps of where the Native Americans were located in the United States and always so disappointed because our part of Appalachia would say, "Unknown Tribes". In my research I have found it wasn't as much an uninhabited "wilderness" as once thought.

Wolf Creek Indian Village and Museum, where I worked, was based on an actual archeology site in Bland County. It was the first state recognized archeology site in Bland County but didn't occur until 1970. We are way behind the coast of Virginia on documentation and archeology in telling the Native American story in Appalachia.

I hope in the future to tell the story of what I know about Native American history in Appalachia, but this Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is an awful disease. No two ways about it. It has robbed me of so much. There are days when I can hardly move, days when it is an effort to get dressed or do the simplest of things. Days when the sun is shining and I want to do SO MUCH and the old body just won't cooperate. I fight it every day and I can tell you it is no fun to feel like I have the nightmare of this achy awful flu that never goes away.

This blog I have to say is kind of a saving grace. You see, I was just laying around, trying to figure out how to get better. A lot of times just in tears because I just felt so worthless. I felt I had become this shadow of my former self. Days turned to weeks, that turned to months and now a couple of years since I felt really well. The internet and TV were all I had. This spring, when I found my blog again, that I started before and just as I got ill, I thought ...ok I will just share a few things on it and tell some family history to see how it goes. It will be something to do, other than cry and watch T.V.

Little did I know that it is has become something I can put my attention on, rather than just laying here hurting and being sick.  Even when the illness is so bad and I can't even think. At those times I don't write too well I have to go back, edit, over and over again. But I feel I'm on a mission once more.

If you all see any sentences that are backwards, literally, please tell me. My thought processes with this disease are really weird to me. But though it is a real challenge to do this, it's giving me new hope. That my life is not over. I'm not totally useless.  Especially the nice comments I have received from readers. SO THANK YOU! THANK YOU ALL.

I can't be as prolific a blogger as some. This week will be 3 posts...whoo hoo.... been the most I've ever accomplished.  I know I have several hundred articles in me with added recipes and crafts. Yep, I can keep this going for quite a while.

I don't know how much I can do these days to expound on these things. Being ill has hampered me in more ways than one. I miss the ability to do my job and I really miss my job MONEY!  I will be limited to research on the internet, and as long as I can keep the internet on, it's a story I will surely try to tell.   I hope you will join me for the journey.

Copyright 2007-2016 Denise Smith