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Road Trip

Celebrate American Indian Heritage Month in Virginia

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Sunday, November 9, 2008

WHERE: Indian Neck, Va., to Williamsburg.

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WHY: Indian cooking demonstrations, on the reservation and Chickahominy canoes.

HOW FAR: About 95 miles from start to finish, and about 100 miles from Washington.

Columbus had his day; now Native Americans get their month.

National American Indian Heritage Month grew out of a day-long tribute advocated by a New York Seneca Indian in the early 1900s. The special commemoration was first extended through November in 1990 with a proclamation by President George H.W. Bush. (For a listing of events, visit http://www.smithsonianeducation.org/heritage_month.)

The indigenous inhabitants of Virginia can be traced to 15,000 B.C., according to archaeologists at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. By 900 B.C., early tribes of nomadic foragers had given way to organized farming communities, setting the stage for a shared Algonquin culture and language. Chief Powhatan eventually created a confederacy of Native American tribes that comprised much of eastern Virginia when John Smith arrived in 1607 to establish the first English settlement in North America.

Despite the European imports and influences, the state's Native American spirit still thrives today. Powhatan tribes including the Rappahannock, Mattaponi and Pamunkey welcome visitors to their reservations for glimpses of their culture and history, including the necklace worn by Pocahontas, which is housed in the Mattaponi Indian Reservation museum east of Richmond.

Nearby, the 1,300-acre Pamunkey Indian Reservation has had only tribal sovereign rule. "We think of this as a little piece of land that was never taken from us," says Warren Cook, assistant chief of the Pamunkey.

-- Ben Chapman

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