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The Monacan Indian Nation In Central Virginia

Updated on July 3, 2015
lrc7815 profile image

Linda lives in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in central Virginia. She writes about nature, social justice, and Native America.

The Future
The Future

Modern History

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.

Monacan Indian Nation Community Center, nestled in the trees at the base of Bear Mountain in Amherst County, Virginia
Monacan Indian Nation Community Center, nestled in the trees at the base of Bear Mountain in Amherst County, Virginia

Early History

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?

Chief Dean Branham, elected in 2015
Chief Dean Branham, elected in 2015
Sharon Bryant, the first woman Chief, elected in 2011
Sharon Bryant, the first woman Chief, elected in 2011

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.

St. Paul's Episcopal Church
St. Paul's Episcopal Church

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.

Unveiling Ceremony of the Monacan Bridge sign
Unveiling Ceremony of the Monacan Bridge sign
Monacan Nation leaders and enrolled members and guests make the first walk across the new Monacan Bridge.
Monacan Nation leaders and enrolled members and guests make the first walk across the new Monacan Bridge.

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.

Powwow guests are invited into the Circle to dance
Powwow guests are invited into the Circle to dance

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 !

Location of the Monacan Indian Museum and Community Center

A marker2009 Kenmore Road, Amherst, VA 24521 -
2009 Kenmore Rd, 2, VA 24574, USA
get directions

Monacan Museum and Tribal Center

Comments

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  • lrc7815 profile image
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    Linda Crist 5 years ago from Central Virginia

    OMG Ms Dee. Thank you sooooo much. I sure missed it, didn't I? :-)

  • jdnyc profile image

    JR 5 years ago from California

    Great photos and information!

  • galleryofgrace profile image

    galleryofgrace 5 years ago from Virginia

    This article is much needed information for Virginians and Native Americans. Thank you so much for writing this. It will definitely be shared.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 5 years ago from Central Virginia

    Thanks galleryofgrace. I have many friends in the Monacan Nation and they deserve more recognition. Thank you for your interest and for wanting to share the information.

  • Ms Dee profile image

    Deidre Shelden 5 years ago from Texas, USA

    Interesting hub and good information that is not well known, BTW.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 5 years ago from Central Virginia

    Thanks Ms Dee. I love these Monacan People. They are family and community centered and their values are much like mine - simple and honest. I did a search and found no hubs written about them so, I did it. They deserve the attention. :-)

  • First Colony profile image

    First Colony 5 years ago

    This may seem like splitting hairs, but since the Race Laws were passed in Virginia in 1823 and 1924, they weren't following in Hitler's footsteps (since he came later). A minor point, perhaps, but one that doesn't leave the reader wondering about a historical timeline.

    Also, I think it is important to note that while these Race Laws are deplorable, Virginia was certainly NOT the only state to have laws of this nature. Therefore, I really don't think it was so Virginia could breed some sort of "well bred politician race".

    While this was a bit sensationalistic, it was informative and the pictures really added to the Hub (especially since I have driven over the Monacan bridge more times than I care to admit).

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 5 years ago from Central Virginia

    First Colony, thank you for your comments. Sensationalistic? I do not agree. It is fact and my friends lived it. Yes Virginia had racial laws in 1823 and1924 that contributed but it is also true that Virginia was intent on breeding a pure race. The Indians were not the only ones who suffered because of it. Those who were poor, uneducated, or those who had low IQ's were also targeted and forcibly sterilized. The BBC did a documentary on this called The Lynchburg Story. A summary can be found at http://filmakers.com/index.php?a=filmDetail&fi... .

    Now, you did in fact identify an error in my story and I will correct it. After a quick fact check, I have found thatIn fact, Hitler took his lead from the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Commonwealth set the example that Hitler followed. I stand corrected.

    Again, thank you for the comment. You held me accountable and I appreciate that. I will edit my hub to correct the information and include additional links as references. Thanks much!

  • First Colony profile image

    First Colony 5 years ago

    I appreciate the well-reasoned reply to my comment, as well as the information. While I regret using the term "sensationalistic", I just meant to point out that Virginia is certainly not alone in this black mark on her history.

  • lrc7815 profile image
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    Linda Crist 5 years ago from Central Virginia

    You are so right. But I must admit I am not proud of this aspect of my Virginia born and bred heritage. I grew up here and witnessed the racism and have so many Monacan friends that I am a little overly sensitive to this issue. I appreciate the dialogue and opportunity to correct my hub. Challenges usually serve to make us better. Good job!

  • MizBejabbers profile image

    MizBejabbers 5 years ago

    I am so glad you published this about the Monacans. I had never heard of this tribe. My great-great grandmother was a Native American who came to the Ozarks from Virginia as a chain bearer on a survey crew. It is thought that she was Eastern Band Cherokee, but never proved. Hmmmm, I wonder because her origin is not well-known, and no one can find anything on the father of her children. He was supposed to be NA, too. I'll check out the Monacan website and see if it turns up anything, like names. As always, I appreciate your work and voted you up!

  • lrc7815 profile image
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    Linda Crist 5 years ago from Central Virginia

    You are so sweet MizB. I always enjoy your comments. If I can help in any way to identify your ancestor, let me know. Do you have any idea what part of Virginia she was from? We have several small tribes here, Saponi, Occanneechee, Mattaponi, Tutleo, Cherokee, etc. Many were told they were Cherokee but were not. Many of the Monacans grew up being told they were Cherokee, mostly out of ignorance. The name of your ancestor might be very revealing.

  • CMerritt profile image

    Chris Merritt 4 years ago from Pendleton, Indiana

    I too, have never heard of them, but find this hub very intereting!

    up, awesome and interesting!

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Thanks CMerritt. Theirs is an interesting story. Their history is well documented by anthropologists from the University of Virginia but their fight still continues today for recognition and racial equality. Thanks for reading!

  • Alastar Packer profile image

    Alastar Packer 4 years ago from North Carolina

    A fine and thorough read on the Monacan in Virginia, Irc7815. Much of their struggle to be recognized federally is similar to that of the Lumbees in east N.C. And eugenics? Where do we think the Nazi's got most of their ideas about it from.

  • Georgie Lowery profile image

    Georgianna Lowery 4 years ago from Lubbock, TX

    Hi there lrc7815!

    You were recommended to me by Alastar Packer who said you had an article on the Monacan tribe I had to read. I'm happy to say that I'm very impressed. You write well and passionately. This is a story that definitely needed to be told.

    I, too, was raised in Central Virginia (Nottoway County - there's another Central VA Native American tribe for you, the Nottowa) and I lived in Waynesboro/Charlottesville for about 10 years. I'm happy to find a fellow Central Virginian. :)

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hello Alastar and Georgie! I am so glad to meet you and reallyappreciate the comments you've left on this hub. The racism that tribes here in the East have endured is criminal. I am so thankful that a handful of the People held on to their heritage in spite of it. The numbers are now growing but they have so much to learn about themselves. Perhaps we can all bring more of the story here to hubpages together.

    As much as I love these Blue Ridge Mountains I am so ashamed of the history here in Virginia. There is little to be proud of. The strength of this land is diversity and yet those of affluence and power thought they would make the Commonwealth strong by breeding a pure race. Pure rubbish!

    I look forward to future conversations with both of you.

  • eddy4me profile image

    Eddy Jones 4 years ago from Wales.

    What a wonderful hub and on a subject I am so passionate about too.

    I now look forward to following you on here.

    Take care and enjoy your day.

    Eddy.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Thanks so much eddy4me. Your kind words mean more than you know. I have many Monacan friends and am driven to tell their story. Thanks for following me too. I will strive to make it worth your time.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

    What a wonderful message and thank you for writing about this. I'm excited that the tribe is doing well and teaching their young to carry on traditions. This appears to be a success story and I am quite pleased. Well done my friend.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Oh Billy, this is one of many stories that fill my "hope" vessel. Thank you so much for the sentiment. I feel a responsibility to tell their story and each time it is read, I find contentment that in this arena at least, I am doing my job. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  • profile image

    John S Chisum 4 years ago

    I am one of the Moncan tribe. I really enjoy the hub and the comments that you all said.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hi John! Thanks for introducing yourself. I have so many friends out in Monroe and around Bear Mountain. Maybe we've seen each other. I'm the one counting the votes for the elections (in the museum). Will you be at the Homecoming in October?

    I'm so glad you liked the hub. I wanted it to be something that all Monacans would be proud to read. You made my day.

  • DrMark1961 profile image

    Dr Mark 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

    Thanks for this well presented information. I had not even heard of this group.

    Voted up and interesting.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Thanks DrMark1961! They are a small tribe but so deserving of a little recognition after what they experienced at the hands of our state government. It has been my pleasure to introduce them here on HP. Thank you for sharing the journey with me and for the vote!

  • Pamela99 profile image

    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    I had never hear of this tribe of Indians before. This is a sad piece of our history and I agree it is a story that much be told. This is a very well written, interesting hub with fascinating history. Up and awesome!

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Thank you Pamela. I am honored to tell their story and introduce them to others. Thank you for your compliment.

  • profile image

    wikked lester 4 years ago

    You represent the Nation very well .

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Thank you so much. I have so many Monacan friends and love them so much. Do I know you?

  • profile image

    wikked lester 4 years ago

    no .

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    I believe I have corrected all the references to a "tribe".

  • SweetiePie profile image

    SweetiePie 4 years ago from Southern California, USA

    California tribes literally had to fight Vegas back in 1998, which proposed legislation on the ballot that would have curtailed how they could run their casinos, which bring revenue into the local communities. The San Manuel Indians donate money from their casinos to local hospitals, whereas the casinos in Vegas do nothing for our state. Thankfully, the Indian tribes won their case, and a lot of people would rather go to a local casino on a reservation that supports the community.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    What a great twist SweetiePie. Part of the delay in federal recognition for the Indians in Virginia is the legilative fear of casinos. The legislators don't dare think something positive to come from it. Thank you for sharing.

  • SweetiePie profile image

    SweetiePie 4 years ago from Southern California, USA

    Actually, they are wrong because the Pechanga and San Manuel tribes here in SoCal have done a lot to help our local communities. When people noticed how Native American tribes were empowered with the funds with the funds local casinos and provided jobs for the community, we all knew whose side we were on. Disclaimer: I am part Native American, so anything to helps better the future of native peoples is close to my heart.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    I am right there with you SweetiePie!

  • profile image

    wikked lester 4 years ago

    SEC. 506. RESERVATION OF THE TRIBE.

    (a) In General- Upon the request of the Tribe, the Secretary of the Interior--......(d) Gaming- The Tribe may not conduct gaming activities as a matter of claimed inherent authority or under the authority of any Federal law, including the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (25 U.S.C. 2701 et seq.) or under any regulations thereunder promulgated by the Secretary or the National Indian Gaming Commission. ............ Upon the request of the Tribe . It is not an issue

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Thanks wikked lester. So on paper, at the request of the Monacan Nation, it is a non-issue. But I do know that it was a verbal issue among several Virginia legislators, who feared that eventually the Monacan Nation would want to take advantatage of the financial reward from operating a casino. Paragraph 22 in the article referenced below explains it in the words of former Chief Kenneth Branham. I am glad we have the opportunity to clarify this issue.

    http://www.virginia.edu/uvanewsmakers/newsmakers/w...

  • pstraubie48 profile image

    Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

    Hi Linda

    You know it takes a lot to make me jump up and down and bang my fists. But I am at this moment. I lived in VA for eighteen years and never knew of this Native American tribe. And now I read of the way they were treated, worse than second class citizens. Man's inhumanity to man always rankles me. Thank you so much for sharing this. Virginians and Native Americans and the world in general needs to be aware. Sending Angels your way ....:0 ps

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hi PS. This is the way I react too. These are my friends and even today are still fighting to be recognized. Isn't Virginia's history incredible? Thanks for sharing my anger.

  • mary615 profile image

    Mary Hyatt 4 years ago from Florida

    I am sorry to say I was not familiar with the Monacan Indians, but I am. You did a wonderful job in writing this article. I enjoyed the read.

    Voted UP and will share.

  • whonunuwho profile image

    whonunuwho 4 years ago from United States

    There seems to be a rejuvenation and just acknowledgement of the native people in North America. This is so heartening to see and long overdue. Thanks for the nice hub and interesting information on this tribe. whonu

  • Kathryn Stratford profile image

    Kathryn 4 years ago from Manchester, Connecticut

    I lived in Lynchburg for a decade, up until only a few years ago, and I never even heard of this until now! I am horrified that such discrimination would go on only a few decades ago, but I'm glad things are turning out for the better now. Thanks for sharing this beautiful story of the Monacan Nation with us.

  • wildove5 profile image

    wildove5 4 years ago from Cumberland, R.I.

    Great Hub! It is amazing how Native Americans have to provide documentation of their existence in order to be recognized by the very same people who tried to make them extinct! I am Eastern Elnu Abenaki and our tribe finally received State recognition a little over two years ago and while we still seek Federal recognition, it is almost impossible!!! Thanks for writing this and educating the " white man."

  • whonunuwho profile image

    whonunuwho 4 years ago from United States

    A well presented article about Native Americans and one that was needed. Thank you for sharing this. whonu

  • Levertis Steele profile image

    Levertis Steele 4 years ago from Southern Clime

    Un-be-liev-able! Monacans? What a piece of news that I never heard of. They are so few in number. Strong people do survive.

    Thanks for sharing this interesting hub. It was quite informative and very interesting.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    @ Mary - thanks for reading this one. I am happy to introduce you to my Monacan friends and glad you enjoyed learning about them.

    @ whonu - I agree about the rejuvenation and that it is long overdue. Thanks for the visit.

    @ Kathryn - Isn't that insane, that you lived here and never knew about the Monacan Nation? It's typical. Thankfully, they are beginning to get the recognition they deserve.

    @ wilddove - As an Abenaki, you know all about fighting for your identiy, I'm sure. It's very sad that one of the obstacles to obtaining federal recognition is now tribes that are already recognized and do not want to share the funding. If the feds paid their debt to the American Indian there would be plenty for everyone. The struggle continues.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hello Levertis. Thanks for stopping by. I am always happy to introduce my Monacan friends to those that do not know them. Yes, they are a strong People who have endured unbelievable discrimination. The land and their own sense of community sustained them and continues to as they fight to be recognized by the federal government. Glad you enjoyed meeting them.

  • mperrottet profile image

    Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

    I'll be driving through the area of Bear Mountain in a couple of weeks, and if I get a chance will stop and see this museum. How horrible that these people had to suffer such discrimination for so many years, but how wonderful that they persevered and kept their identity. You write such wonderful articles, and I'm glad I came across this one. Voted up, interesting and sharing.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hello Margaret. Thanks for the visit today. If your plans are not solidified yet, you might be interested in knowing that the 21st Annual Monacan Nation Powwow is on May 18-19, 2013 and would be a fabulous time for a visit. Here's a link to the information:

    http://www.monacannation.com/powwow.shtml

    Hope your trip coincides with the Powwow. It's an exciting time for the Monacan Nation and I'm sure you would enjoy it too.

  • profile image

    Justsilvie 4 years ago

    Very Interesting Hub! I look forward to learning more about the Monacan Culture. As someone married to a Native American and since we are making Virginia our future home I am a bit worried about how people today act especially after seeing a really nasty racial slur against an Afro American poster on a website about the our new Area there. After years of being an Army wife and then an Expat I had not thought I would ever have to deal with racial bigots at home again. Voted up and shared!

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hello Justsilvie. Let me be one of the first to welcome you to Virginia. Racism exists everywhere so I won't pretend that it doesn't happen here. That said, the Native People of Virginia have come a long way in establishing themselves as a presence in the Commonwealth. How much racism you encounter depends on where you are moving. There is probably less in the Tidewater area, near the military bases where it seems to be more accepted due to the number of interracial marriages, etc. Here in the mountains, things are better than they have been but there is still room for improvement. The Monacan People have overcome so much and I am very happy for them and proud of them for the progress they have made in recent years. I hope you will visit them when you become a resident of Virginia. Thanks for the visit, votes, and sharing.

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