Stephen Adkins and Ken Adams will board a plane to England this week on a journey that has been almost four centuries in the making.
The chiefs of two of Virginia's eight Indian tribes are part of a small delegation coordinating plans with British officials to commemorate the English explorers who established the first permanent settlement in America at Jamestown in 1607.
In all that time, no Virginia Indian has ever made an official visit to Britain, which signed a formal peace treaty with the tribes in 1677.
The chiefs consider it not only a historic first but a trip of reconciliation long overdue.
"It represents the closing of a circle that has been incomplete for the last 398 years," said Adkins, chief of the Chickahominy tribe, which witnessed the arrival of the colonists. "It's a reconciliation between England and the indigenous peoples of Virginia, an acknowledgment that Jamestown would not have existed, and could not have existed, without a relationship between the settlers and Virginia's indigenous peoples."
Adkins and Adams, who is chief of the Upper Mattaponi tribe, will be joined on the week-long trip by several members of the federal commission charged with planning activities for Jamestown's 400th anniversary. Adkins is also a member of the commission.
For Virginia's tribes, inclusion in the planning is a marked departure from previous anniversaries and a signpost of acceptance. They are hoping their participation in the events will have lasting benefits, including support in their push for federal recognition of their tribal status.
Many British people are unaware of Jamestown, said H. Edward Mann, executive director of the federal commission.
"Ask them where America started, and they will say Massachusetts," said Mann, who also will be on the trip, which starts Friday. "Though they know about Pocahontas, they assume she lived in Plymouth."
A visit to the cemetery where Pocahontas is buried, in Gravesend, is on the itinerary.
"The story wouldn't be whole if we didn't have a Virginia Indian representative on this trip," said Rebecca Casson, executive director of the Jamestown 2007 British Committee. "It's an educational opportunity, to set the record straight and communicate their story to the British public in their own words."
In addition to the ceremony at Gravesend, the delegation is expected to attend a reception in Parliament's Astor Room, named after Nancy Astor, who was originally from Danville, Va., and was the first woman elected to Parliament. Officials in Kent County, England, where many of the original settlers came from, also are planning ceremonies, Casson said.
Adkins believes the attention to the perspective of Virginia Indians in planning the Jamestown 2007 events reflects a change in attitude toward people who lost their land to the colonists and almost lost their identity when the state's Racial Integrity Act of 1924 recognized only two races in Virginia -- black and white. Objections last year from Virginia's tribal leaders led officials to change the name of the Jamestown anniversary activities from a celebration to a commemoration.
"I see parallels between where we are today and the end of 400 years of exile for the Jews in the Old Testament," Adkins said. "Birth certificates have been changed to reflect our true identity. And now Great Britain is recognizing us, as a nation, by inviting us to come. Things are shifting. I believe the historical slights we have endured will be erased. Our time has come."
Adkins and Adams said they hope to establish ties that encourage tourism, student exchanges and trade, including the marketing of Indian crafts in Britain.
But for many Virginia Indians, the official trip to England is most important for its symbolic value.
"This will be the first time since the time of Pocahontas that tribal dignitaries have visited Great Britain," said Reggie Tupponce, president of the Virginia Indian Tribal Alliance for Life, a group formed to lobby for federal recognition. "If that isn't monumental, I don't know what is."
Tupponce said many of Virginia's tribes, which have fewer than 4,000 members, expect the visit to foster healing for past injustices.
"Every day of my life, I live with what happened from 1607 to the 1700s," said Tupponce, who is a member of the Upper Mattaponi tribe. "To see that the British are inviting us to come over there and are interested in sharing our portion of that history, I think it shows some healing is going on. Some people think it's all over and done with. For our people, it's not over and done with."
Despite such sentiments, the chiefs say they are not embarking on a guilt trip.
"There are regrets on both sides," Adams said. "Of course, we probably regret it more than they do. However, we have to deal with the here and now. This gives us opportunities to develop relations we can be proud of, that are helpful to Indians."
Casson said the British Committee is also hoping a new relationship will grow from the visit of the two chiefs.
"We're sensitive to the fact there is history we can't forget about," she said. "What's important is that we forevermore respect each other."