LINKS
2009-11-25 / Family

Native Americans teach cultural heritage at Henricus

By Becky Robinette Wright
CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Native American interpreter Pete McKee weaves a net at Henricus Historical Park. Becky Robinette Wright/Chesterfield Observer Native American interpreter Pete McKee weaves a net at Henricus Historical Park. Becky Robinette Wright/Chesterfield Observer Colonists quickly discovered they weren’t alone when they founded the Citie of Henricus during the 1600s. Native Americans were already living in and around the Henricus area, as well as other parts of what is now Chesterfield County.

Today, visitors to Henricus Historical Park may still smell the aroma of food roasted over an open fire, learn how to scrape deerskin and view craft-making by the descendents of the early indigenous people. The park teaches visitors about the history of the colonists and Native Americans.

Tamyse Jefferson of the Chickahominy Tribe has been contributing to the Native American component of Henricus for around a decade.

“I began learning beadwork when I was 9 years old,” Jefferson recounted. “My grandmother, Lucille Adkins, taught me how to bead. I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Tamyse Jefferson of the Chickahominy Tribe demonstates her beadwork at Henricus Historical Park. Becky Robinette Wright/Chesterfield Observer Tamyse Jefferson of the Chickahominy Tribe demonstates her beadwork at Henricus Historical Park. Becky Robinette Wright/Chesterfield Observer Jefferson also had a strong support system from her parents, the late Garland M. and Iris E. Holmes.

Being proficient in her native cultural crafts has paved the way for some exciting opportunities. Jefferson travels to pow-wows throughout the commonwealth, Washington, D.C. and Maryland. Her work has been exhibited at the National Museum of the American Indian in D.C., the Virginia Museum of Natural History, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and Henricus.

In 2007, Chickahominy tribe members were in attendance when President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, visited Berkeley Plantation. The Bushes were presented with an offering from the Chickahominy people.

“I made the president a bolo and a necklace for Laura,” Jefferson said humbly. “I crafted them, but they were from the whole tribe. When the gifts were presented to the first family, President Bush kissed me on the cheek.”

There are many benefits to sharing her tribe’s culture, says Jefferson.

“I am proud to teach our traditions. It keeps the heritage alive. It’s a way to express my feelings. It’s also a great chance to debunk myths,” she said.

At one event, Jefferson had a person come up to her and ask when the Indians were coming. “I looked them in the eye and said, ‘I’m Indian, and we are already here.’”

Some are surprised by the commonalities between Native Americans and other races. “I love Mexican and Italian food,” Jefferson said. “That is not what some people imagine us eating. I celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas just like some other people do.”

Henricus has historical interpreters step in to portray the role of Native Americans living in the time period when local native people are not available and extra hands are needed.

On-site, Henricus has a native long-house with a thatched roof and bark, recreating how some native peoples lived. This dwelling withstood the forces of Hurricane Isabel. “That says something for the craftsmanship of the early natives,” Pete McKee, an interpreter, said.

There’s also an area where visitors can use seashells to scrape away charred wood to create the inside of a canoe, just as the original natives did. Deerskins hang, and visitors can use shells to remove fur from the hides.

On days when events are going on, native peoples or interpreters cook traditional food over a fire, much like their ancestors did.

November is Native American Heritage Month, and in Virginia, the day before Thanksgiving is Native American Day. The day before Thanksgiving is also the day that the Pamunkey and Mattaponi Indians offer a gift of game to the current governor. This act honors terms set forth in a treaty that is over 300 years old, the original having been signed in 1677.

Native American trivia

• Over two million Native Americans live in the U.S. today representing nearly 600 tribes.

• “Indian” is the term Columbus gave to the early indigenous people of the “New World” because he believed he had landed in India.

• In Virginia, there are eight state recognized tribes: Mattaponi, Pamunkey, Upper Mattaponi, Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Rappahannock, Nansemond and Monacan. Six of these are seeking federal recognition. The two that are not seeking federal status, the Mattaponi and Pamunkey, are currently living under an active treaty that is over 300 years old, and have reservations in King William County near West Point.

• Charles Curtis of Osage/Kaw heritage served as the vice president of the U.S. under President Herbert Hoover from 1929-1933.

• Defense Supply Center Richmond has a special monument dedicated to early indigenous people of Chesterfield.

Return to top