Indigenous artists told stories, performed dances and helped people understand their culture.
WILLIAMSBURG-You know the story, even if you haven’t heard the names. The story tells us how John Smith was captured near the Chickahominy River, how the Powhatan tribe brought him to their chief, and how the chief’s daughter, Matoaka (or Pocahontas) saved his life. But what about the Powhatan tribe?
In order to paint an accurate picture of how Virginia was born, all cultures involved must have their stories told. That’s why events like last weekend’s are important. The Jamestown Settlement put Powhatan and other Indigenous cultures at the center of a two-day event filled with history and heritage.
The goal here is to raise awareness. Duane Baldwin, education specialist for The Jamestown Settlement, said he wanted to draw attention to the fact that these tribes still exist.
“I want the guests to understand that the native people are still there and that there is still a living culture,” said Baldwin. “There are a lot of stereotypes and I hope that by the time of the powwow some of those stereotypes will be dispelled or removed.”
Tell a more accurate and inclusive story
The challenge for operations like Jamestown is the lack of historical records. Felicia Abrams, the colony’s on-site education manager, said that when determining the museum’s programming, they wanted to incorporate a more precise and complicated story. This includes giving a more complete account of the tribes of North America before the arrival of the English settlers.
“The Powhatan had an oral tradition, an oral storytelling,” Abrams said. “So all we know is from an English point of view. Everything we know of our primary sources is from an English point of view. So you have to think about the historical bias in this as the English write about it. “
Abrams said there is a movement in the museum industry to pay more attention to oral history and tradition and include this information in their exhibits as a challenge to written records and settler prejudices.
Abrams said she believes that when guests see different styles and dances, they learn that there are different regions of American Indians and that they do not all have the same culture or traditions.
“When we have bigger powwows and we have people from different regions, we are also talking about the oriental tribes and the oriental dances,” Abrams said. “Last year for the event, the head dancers were both from the tribes of Virginia.”
Change the story
Part of the purpose of the event is to dispel misconceptions about native tribes. Brothers Lowery and Emerson Begay are two brothers from the Navajo nation. Lowery Begay has been singing and hoop dancing for 35 years and Emerson has been performing traditional Plains Indian tribal dances and playing the flute for 24 years.
Emerson Begay said he hopes guests who come to the event will learn that Hollywood’s portrayal of tribes is not accurate. They are not savages or pagans as Hollywood describes them. Lowery Begay seconded the statement.
“I want them to have a better understanding and a better overview of everything,” Lowery said. “Even in what’s to come, which is Columbus Day. How can you discover something when there are already people there? We have great respect for our culture and sometimes when people see us they expect us to be dressed [in ceremonial regalia] all the time but hey, we have evolved like everyone else. We are doctors, [we] are lawyers, we are teachers. [We] even politicians.
Lowery added that in a roundabout way, COVID has helped non-Native Americans understand the kind of restrictions that native tribes once had to go through. At one point, the federal government banned ceremonial tribal gatherings. While the reasoning behind the current bans is not down to government bias, Lowery said the impact was similar.
Friends Kelly Dirks and Mary Smith, who are from California, crossed the coast to Jamestown to learn more about America’s past and were not disappointed.
“With all the images and the artifacts, it was very detailed,” Dirks said. “It focused on things that I kind of remembered as a kid. But I went into more detail.
Host an event during COVID-19
Baldwin coordinated the event for four years. In previous years, the powwows he organized have attracted thousands of people. This year, Baldwin wasn’t even sure if they were going to have one.
In order for the event to happen, Baldwin had to cut down on the main powwow event and do regular side events for a larger portion of the day.
“The events we are hosting today were part of our normal powwow,” said Baldwin. “But it was like side dishes, and the powwow was the main steak. With COVID, there hasn’t really been a nationwide powwow since the start. I went to my last powwow in March before things got out of hand.
Baldwin’s biggest challenge was planning an event that protected both the guests and the performers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Native Americans have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
“I had to call people up and see if they would be willing to come and take the risk,” Baldwin said. “I got ‘no’s and some people just didn’t want to. And luckily some people said, “Yeah, we’ll be there. “
Lowery and Emerson Begay said it was their first performance in eight months.
“This is the first show we’ve done since February,” Lowery Begay said. “It really killed us because we’re in the entertainment business. We are not just Native American artists. I work for groups. [I] work for production. I work as a backstage runner with groups and everything. It killed my economy both ways.
Julia raimondi is a freelance journalist and Arianna Coghill is a content producer for Dogwood.