Centuries before Europeans first landed at Jamestown in 1607, powerful Native American nations and communities thrived in Virginia, establishing multiple legacies of vitality and diversity.
Three distinctive tribes dominated the territory now known as Virginia during the late 16th century through the 17th century - the Powhatan, the Monacan and Cherokee.
They spoke three different languages - Algonquian, Siouan and Iroquoian - and lived along the banks of the coastal waterways, in woodlands and mountain valleys. They worshiped, hunted, fished, farmed, traded, and enjoyed life.
Today, Virginia Indians maintain their strong cultural heritage, including diversity, within Virginia's Indian communities. Virginia's eleven officially recognized tribes promote Virginia Indian traditions of culture through dance, art, jewelry, clothing, crafts, storytelling - and through their chiefs, reservations, and political activism.
Throughout Virginia, one can find examples of museums, attractions and events where anyone can connect with the vibrant, enlightened life Virginia Indians offer today.
Museums and Attractions & Upcoming Events
Virginia's 11 officially recognized tribes today:
Powhatan | Monacan | Cherokee
Long before 104 Englishmen landed at Jamestown on May 13, 1607, Chief Powhatan and 10,000 of his people lived in the coastal regions of Virginia all the way north to Washington, D.C.
Chief Powhatan and his famous daughter Pocahontas lived among the Pumunkey Tribe, the most powerful in the Powhatan Empire.
They spoke the Algonquian language and had conquered 30 of the 36 tribal capitals.
Visit the following sites to learn more about the Powhatan:
Henricus Historical Park - The "Citie of Henricus" in Chester was the second successful English city. It was first inhabited by the Appomattocks tribe, where Pocahontas spent her time as a little girl.
MacCallum More Museum & Gardens in Chase City has an extensive Native American collection and is the site for an annual Native American art show and archeology event.
Jamestown Settlement in Williamsburg is a re-created Powhatan Village, where visitors can enjoy hands-on activities, such as scraping out a canoe like the Indians did!
Pamunkey Indian Museum located on the Pamunkey Indian Reservation in King William County. Watch Pamunkey women make the pottery they are famous for throughout the world!
Hampton University Museum in Hampton has one of the most extensive collections of Native American art from more than 93 different tribes.
Mariners' Museum in Newport News features a dugout canoe that was used around 1630 by the Powhatan people.
The Mattaponi Museum & Minnie HA HA in West Point features traditional articles and display of ancient artifacts. See Pocahontas' necklace here!
The Museum of Culpeper History in Culpeper features Native American life through artifacts, displays and special exhibits.
The James River Monacan primarily controlled the area of the upper waters of the James River at Richmond in Central Virginia.
The Monacan also controlled areas of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Shenandoah Valley during the time of the Jamestown landing in 1607.
They were members of the Catawba tribe of the Sioux and spoke the Siouan language.
The area of Bear Mountain in Amherst County has been their ancestral home for more than 10,000 years.
Visit the following sites to learn more about the Monacan:
Monacan Indian Living History Exhibit in Natural Bridge depicts what life was like more than 300 years ago. See how their homes were built, what they planted and how they played.
The Monacan Indian Nation Ancestral Museum in Amherst is on the actual land the Monacan have inhabited for more than 10,000 years.
Amherst County Museum & Historical Society also features Monacan history in its permanent exhibits.
The Cherokee occupied the mountain valleys of southwest Virginia and along the banks of the Nottoway River near the North Carolina border during the Jamestown landing in 1607. They spoke the Iroquoian language.
The Cherokee Nation did not have contact with the English settlers until around 1630, when they began trading with the English who migrated westward.
By 1700, the Cherokee Nation claimed most of the land in southwestern Virginia, but they were forced to give up their land to the United States government in 1768 under the Treaty of Hard Labor.
Through the Indian Removal Act in 1830, the Cherokee were forced to relocate on foot to Oklahoma. Thus, the Trail of Tears. But some of the Cherokee hid in the mountains and later became U.S. citizens. They are now known as the Eastern Band of Cherokee, now living in North Carolina.
Visit the following sites to learn more about the Cherokee:
Blue Ridge Highlands
Learn the Cherokee legend of the fairy stone at Fairy Stone State Park in Stuart. Fairy stones are made of iron aluminum silicate and look like little crosses!
The Museum of the Middle Appalachians in Saltville features artifacts and an extensive collection of Native American beadwork.
Wolf Creek Indian Village & Museum in Bastian features a re-created village near the site of an actual archaeological excavation. Interpretive guides explain the lives of the scattered Eastern Woodland Indians, who spoke the Iroquoian language.
Heart of Appalachia
The Historic Crab Orchard Museum & Pioneer Park presents artifacts from the Cherokee dated more than 10,000 years ago dug from the Crab Orchard archeology site. Also, see the diorama of a Cherokee settlement and learn about the newly discovered Cherokee burial ground nearby.
Occoneechee State Park in Clarksville has a great Native American Museum, and has been the venue for powwows in the past.
Download the PDF version of The Virginia Indian Heritage Trail edited by Karenne Wood, a member of the Monacan Indian Nation and director of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities' Virginia Indian Heritage Program.
Additional information on Virginia Indians.
Last Updated: 04/19/2016
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