- Education and Science»
- Sociology & Anthropology
The Monacan Indian Nation In Central Virginia
For over 10,000 years, Amherst County in the Commonwealth of Virginia, has been home to a small community of Native People, the Monacan Indians. When racial discrimination drove them into the mountains, they formed a small, tight-knit community at the foot of Bear Mountain in the county of Amherst. There, they lived off the land and took care of each other. Most became migrant workers or farmers. They remain there today, over 2100 members strong. Small bands have been identified in Maryland and West Virginia but the majority of Monacan People reside in Amherst County and are still fighting to be recognized by the Federal Government as an Indian Nation.
The Commonwealth of Virginia has not always recognized the existence of the Monacan People,. In fact, the Commonwealth did everything possible to eradicate them from it's history. It was not until 1989 that the Commonwealth formally recognized the Monacan Indian Nation. Prior to this, it is a sad story that must be told and remembered. Monacan children were not allowed to attend public schools in Amherst County, Virginia until the early 60's. When they were, they were not allowed to sit in seats on the school bus. Seats were reserved for the Caucasian and Negro children. When a child was born to a Monacan family, they were not allowed to list the child as Indian on the birth certificate until the early 1970s. Oh no, those children were listed as either "mulatto" or "negro" on the official birth records.
Why did the Commonwealth try to deny the existence of this small band of Siouan speaking people? The answer is steeped in politics and government.
Learn About Other Virginia Indians
- Indian Tribes/Nations In Virginia
Little is published in the history books of the rich and diverse cultures of Indians in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Here, you will be introduced to eleven Tribes or Nations who are currently recognized by the Commonwealth.
It is well known that many Presidents of the United States were Virginians by birth. In an attempt to purify the racial lines of Virginians. the Commonwealth of Virginia enacted Racial Integrity Laws and forced sterilizations (documented by the BBC film The Lynchburg Story) of the poor, uneducated, and mentally handicapped They also falsified birth records to alter the racial profile of the Commonwealth. As the Director of the Bureau of Vital Statistics for the Commonwealth, Walter Plecker once ordered all Monacan Indian birth certificates on file to be changed. There would be no race in the Commonwealth of Virginia other than Caucasian and Negro. The Commonwealth wanted to breed a race capable of producing well bred politicians. Eugenics?
Amherst County is named after Lord Jeffrey Amherst, the first Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. It is documented that Lord Amherst, even as the Governor, never once set foot on Virginia soil. He was the commanding General of the British forces in North America during the French and Indian War. However, Lord Jeffrey Amherst is best known as being the General who ordered blankets infected with smallpox to be distributed among the Indians. Germ warfare?
The Monacans presence in the Commonwealth is well documented by archaeologists and history. The Monacan Indians historically buried their dead in mounds of earth. To date, thirteen such mounds have been identified. The first to be discovered is thought to have been discovered by Thomas Jefferson, in the 1700's. Jefferson later became known as the Father of Archaeology because he had the mound excavated and documented the findings. Grave desecration?
The Monacan Indian Nation Today
The Episcopal Church was the foundation of Monacan spiritual life for centuries. St. Paul's Episcopal church, where Monacans assimilated to Christianity is built on the rocks of a gentle little creek that flows through the center of the Monacan homeland. The Episcopal Diocese who once owned the land where the Monacan Nation Museum sits today, returned ownership of the land to the Monacan Nation in 1995. The building that houses the museum once served as the school house for the Monacan children. The church provided teachers for this small building where children of all ages shared a single classroom. The Monacan Nation has also purchased an additional 100 acres of land at the foot of Bear Mountain and will one day build a new tribal center on the land. For now, it is their sacred ancestral burial ground and the place where ceremonies are held.
The Monacan Nation, through sheer determination, has come a long way. Theirs is a heritage to be proud of and many of the Monacan youth are embracing their heritage today. They are learning the Siouan language of their ancestors as well as the traditional ceremonies. Classes are being taught at the Tribal Center to introduce the Monacan youth to their rich history and culture. A food bank now operates from the Tribal Center to provide for the Monacan community in need.
Under their own governance, the Monacan Indian Nation conducts tribal elections every four years. In 2015, Dean Branham was elected Chief and Pam Thompson serves as Assistant Chief. Former Chief Sharon Braynt was elected in 2011 as the first woman to hold the position. In the spring of 2015 Sharon was diagnosed with terminal cancer and ended her earthly journey on June 23, 2015.
In 2006. the Commonwealth of Virginia built a highway from Route 460 East to Route 29 North, bypassing the city of Lynchburg and the town of Madison Heights, Virginia. The new highway crosses the James River and in 2007, the Bridge was named the Monacan Bridge and a ceremony was held to dedicate the bridge. What a milestone for the Monacan Indian Nation. This public display of recognition by the Commonwealth of Virginia was long over due.
Celebration and Homecoming
The Monacan Indian Nation of Amherst County has worked tirelessly to overcome the racism and oppression that forced them to hide in the mountains for decades. Today, the Monacan Nation hosts an annual Powwow each Spring that is well attended by both Indians and non-Indians. The powwow is a time of celebration and the sharing of their rich culture. Guests will enjoy craft demonstrations, traditional food, dancing, birds of prey, and can purchase books, tapes, clothing, jewelry, and much, much more. The powwow is held on the Albert Farm off of Route 130 East. The site is incredible with the backdrop of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Standing on the powwow grounds, you can sense the history of an almost eradicated People.
Annual Homecoming each October
- The Monacan Indians and St. Paul's Mission
October is a time of sharing, celebrating, and fundraising for St. Paul's Mission, the spiritual center of the Monacan Indian Nation of Virginia. The annual Homecoming and Scholarship Auction is held on the first Saturday in October. It is a traditio
Worth the Trip
Visitors to the East Coast should certainly add the Monacan Museum or Powwow to their list of places to visit. Visit the Monacan Nation's web site for maps, hours, and a little more history of the Commonwealth's First People. They are true survivors and welcome visitors who are sincerely interested in learning about their history and culture.
The Monacans also host a scholarship auction and Homecoming in October of each year. Visitors can enjoy lunch provided by tribal members, bid on beautiful pieces of art, jewelry, etc. and, purchase some of the delicious homemade canned goods and pastries. Trust me, it's worth the trip !
The Fight for Federal Recognition for Virginia Indians
- Virginia Indian Tribal Alliance for Life (VITAL) explains why Federal Recognition is Important.
Virginia Indian Tribal Alliance for Life
- Fact sheet on Federal Recognition for Virginia Indians
- Sen. Jim Webb pushes for federal recognition of Virginia Indian tribes | WSLS 10
Senator Webb's bill would grant federal recognition to six Indian tribes of Virginia
Location of the Monacan Indian Museum and Community Center
Monacan Museum and Tribal Center