envisioning an Indian Reservation, your mind immediately turns westward.
However, there are Indian Reservations much closer to home, right here
in Virginia. Two such reservations lie virtually hidden from existence
less than an hour away from Richmond. The Pamunkey Reservation, located
in King William, Virginia and the Mattaponi Reservation, located in West
Point, Virginia are small monuments to the once thriving tribes which
were represented in the great Powhattan Confederacy that dates back as
far as 1600 AD.
During its greatest days, the Powhatan Confederacy consisted of approximately
34 tribes representing more than 10,000 people under the leadership of
Chief Powhatan (Pocahontas' father). The Confederacy's territory once
spanned the entire coastal plain of Virginia. Today, however, the Mattaponi
Reservation presently encompasses only 150 acres with approximately 60
people living in the reservation and Pamunkey Indians now occupy a space
smaller than 1,200 acres with approximately 34 families residing there.
Over the years, members of both tribes have been dispersed throughout
the state and country, leaving the remaining members of the tribes struggling
with ways to keep their heritage alive and strong.
Though only separated by a few miles, the Mattaponi and Pamunkey Reservations
are as uniquely different as their individual tribal culture. The Pamunkey
Reservation consists of mostly an agricultural community as evidenced
by their numerous cornfields and scattered houses. Whereas the Mattaponi
Reservation consists of houses clustered closer together in more of a
community-type setting and their primary focus is on shad fishing instead
of farming. Despite the two tribe's many differences, the now silent schoolhouses
located on each reservation testify to the common struggle of preserving
a way of life in an ever-changing society.
In order to get a better feel for what life was like in each of the tribes,
a visit to the museums located on the reservations is essential. The Pamunkey
Indian Museum displays exhibits arranged by time period, allowing for
a progressive trip through time in the life of the Pamunkey Indian. The
museum is also home to a trading post filled with beautiful pottery made
on the reservation. Unfortunately, most of the pottery on display was
created by crafters who are now deceased. The Mattoponi Museum utilizes
a less formal approach. Many of its artifacts, some dating to 5000 BC,
are labeled with handwritten index cards. One of its most famous exhibits
is a necklace that once belonged to Pocahontas.
A visit to the Mattaponi and Pamunkey Indian Reservations is the perfect
educational day trip. It will not only provide you with a wonderful sense
of the traditional life of the Pamunkey and Mattaponi people, it will
also provide a first hand look into lifestyle that is threatening to disappear