Interpreting Virginia History — from the Indian Point of View

I’ve praised the movie “New World” in this blog for its attention to historical authenticity, and readers of this blog have debated the merits of revisionist history. Now comes an article from the William & Mary website about the behind-the-scenes interaction between Virginian Indians and “New World” director Terence Malick over the portrayal of Indian culture in the movie.

Quotable quote:

When leaders of Virginia’s Indian communities were first asked to consult on the film, many of them were hesitant because they realized that any story that focused on Capt. John Smith and his relationship with Pocahontas—a story most First Americans do not accept—was apt to present a distorted image of the Virginia Algonquian heritage, Green said. He, however, was anxious to participate.

“My idea was that you don’t see too many movies about Virginia Indians,” he explained, “so maybe we can take this situation and educate the public. Maybe we can show them that we are still here.”

Overall, though, the movie-making experience was a positive one.

(Photo credit of chief Robert Green of the Patawomeck tribe: William & Mary.)

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11 responses to “Interpreting Virginia History — from the Indian Point of View”

  1. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Know a good book about Virginia’s Indians pre-1776? I haven’t seen any in the history section or local section of the big distributors.

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar

    No, I don’t know of any such book — but I’d love to read one. In the Virginia imagination, Indians pretty much disappear after the early Jamestown interactions. But Bacon’s Rebellion was part of an ongoing war with the Indians. Later, the colony built a series of forts on the “frontier” that was the Shenandoah Valley.

  3. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    My wife’s family, the Clay line, lost 2 sons when the Shawnee attacked in 1760. One was killed at the farm and one taken back across the Ohio River and burned at the stake for the pagan gods. About four generations later one of the descendants married a full blooded Indian, probably Cherokee – last name Hunter, as the melting pot and assimilation continue. Very interesting history and I’d like to read more.

  4. There’s a great book produced by the Archeological Society of Virginia on the period of 1607-1617, and is a compilation of eyewitness accounts of the Virginia Colony. The name of the book is “Jamestown Narratives” and it is edited by Edward Wright Haile. While it’s not specifically on the Virginia Indians, it’s a great book to understand that period.

    For a specifically Indian-related book, I would suggest any of the books by Prof. Helen C. Rountree, who is retired from ODU. She is an expert on the Powhatan people, and her work on “Pocahonatas’s People: The Powhatan Indians of Virginia Through Four Centuries” is probably the premier work on the Virginia Indians.

  5. Jim Bacon Avatar

    I grew up remembering the massacre of Wounded Knee — a true blot on our nation’s history. I dare say the current generation of school children know nothing of the larger context — that whites and Indians had been engaging in mutual, tit-for-tat sunni/shiite-style massacres and killings since they first encountered one another.

  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    ditto …Trail of Tears – 4000 died.. more than 911…

    “The Cherokee Trail of Tears resulted from the enforcement of the Treaty of New Echota, an agreement signed under the provisions of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which exchanged Native American land in the east for lands west of the Mississippi River. In December 1835, the U.S. sought out this minority to effect a treaty at New Echota, Georgia. Only 300 to 500 Cherokees were there; none were elected officials of the Cherokee Nation. Twenty signed the treaty, ceding all Cherokee territory east of the Mississippi to the U.S., in exchange for $5 million and new homelands in Indian Territory.

    More than 15,000 Cherokees protested the illegal treaty. Yet, on May 23, 1836, the Treaty of New Echota was ratified by the U.S. Senate–by just one vote.”

    so what disturbs me.. is that most history taught in our schools does not deal with issues like this… and for those of us who believe that this is important and relevant history about this country… there are others who believe that by advocating this.. we are, not supporting our country and actually claiming that it has serious flaws rather than recognizing that we are the “best country in the world”.

    I’m a realist. I believe we ARE if not the best, one of the best countries in the World.. since civilization began but we are a long, long way from perfect and by seeking to “hide” history .. by clamping down on the less-than-wonderful parts.. we really are being hypocritical – especially so in the eyes of the rest of the world.

    We must be honest and forthright with our history in my view especially if we are not to repeat our past mistakes.

  7. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Thanks, Randolph, very much.

    A great book showing the no-quarter, no compromise clash of cultures is T.R. Fehernbach’s Comanches: Death of a Nation. Likewise, his book on Mexico: Blood and Fire.

    Larry Gross: We live in the best country in the fallen world of sinful men. The evil that is done in America or in America’s name is inseparable from the nature of man. This is the Judeo-Christian worldview shared by the Founders.

    Likewise, as children of the American Enlightenment, we believe that things can be made much better, but men can’t be better separate from relationship with God.

    My Mother, who wasn’t Indian, told me about the Indians attacking a Sunday picnic and killing our ancestor’s neighbor lady (arrow in the heart) trying to jump a fence in her hooped skirt on frontier upcountry SC. Likewise, she was very familiar with the Trail of Tears and told me about it before I ever read it.

    If you live on the frontier of two cultures in conflict, the biggest mistake you can make is to lose the fight.

  8. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Over the Earth I Come: The Great Sioux Uprising of 1862, by Duane Schultz. I’ve reread it several times. It presents a very complex and tragic event for all participants, as such. It’s easy to find good and bad, hero and villain among both the Dakota and the whites.

    This book tells the story of the events and injustices that sparked a series of violent attacks and battles in Minnesota and what is now South Dakota, during the midst of the Civil War. The book is one of the most even-handed histories I’ve ever read. The humanity and inhumanty of human beings.

  9. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    When men left to be soldiers in the north and south on the frontier, the Indians pushed back the frontier about 200 miles in Minnesota and Texas.

  10. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    More on the Subject:

    Holiday troubling to Va. Indians
    Many see an inaccurate portrayal of their culture during Thanksgiving

    Deconstructing the Myths of “The First Thanksgiving”
    by Judy Dow (Abenaki) and Beverly Slapin
    Revised 06/12/06

    The more I dig into this.. the more compelling.. it is and the more I realize that my perceptions that resulted from my public school education… do not square with historical facts. I was taught things that were not true. Why?

    How and why did our history books – taught to all kids – end up articulating essentially myths?

    When folks talk about “revisionist history” – the typical inference is that someone has gone back and attempted to re-write a history different from what actually happened.

    What do we call efforts to correct historical accounts that were wrong from the get-go?

    More important – how did those accounts end up factually incorrect to start with and how did those erroneous accounts get promoted and codified into history books used to teach kids?

  11. Graphic_Assault Avatar

    that is a great site for the East coast indian tribes.

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