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Virginia festival showcases 15 American Indian tribes 7-07

HAMPTON, Va. (AP) - Powhatan Red Cloud-Owen occasionally runs into people - including other American Indians - who are surprised to learn that there are still Indian tribes in Virginia.

The free American Indian Intertribal Cultural Festival was held as an opportunity to remind people that Indians have lived in what is now Virginia since thousands of years before English colonists founded Jamestown in 1607.

Indians from 15 tribes around the country, including from North Dakota, gathered at the Hampton Coliseum to dance, demonstrate crafts, connect with each other and share their history and culture with the public.


Virginia's eight state-recognized tribes hosted the festival - the first time in modern history they will come together for an event like this, Red Cloud-Owen said while setting up at the Coliseum. The festival is one of 10 signature events that are part of the 18-month-long commemoration of 400th anniversary of Jamestown, America's first permanent English settlement.

“We want people to know that our history began before 1607 and didn't end in the late 1700s with the dissemination or just the annihilation of almost all our people,” said Red Cloud-Owen, a Chickahominy tribe council member and liaison between the Virginia tribes and Jamestown 2007, which is coordinating the commemoration.

“We want people to know we're here,” he said. “We've been here all along, we're still here, and we're staying here. ... We're still a thriving people that bring much to everyday, mainstream America.”

The eight tribes have about 6,000 members in Virginia, which is home to a total of about 22,000 people of American Indian descent, Red Cloud-Owen said.

About 300 members of Virginia's Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Mattaponi, Monacan Indian Nation, Nansemond, Pamunkey, Rappahannock and Upper Mattaponi are expected to take part in the festival, he said.

Seven tribes are visiting from other states, each sending about 20 members. They are the Jemez Pueblo of New Mexico, Lumbee of North Carolina, the Three Affiliated Tribes - Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara - of North Dakota, Nez Perce of Idaho, Osage of Oklahoma, Sault Ste. Marie Chippewa of Michigan and Seminole of Florida.

Organizers hoped up to 7,000 people would attend each day of the festival, which featured drum and dance demonstrations, with a “Grand Entry” of dancers from all 15 tribes at noon both days. Other highlights include flute making, storytelling, pottery making, hand drum tying, exhibits on the history of Virginia tribes and children's activities including a treasure hunt.

In addition, 30 Indian craft vendors were selling pottery, jewelry and other wares. Visitors also will be able to buy Indian food, such as fry bread, a fried bread made from flat dough.

Speakers from various tribes and from the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., were discussing issues facing American Indians today.

“Everybody that comes in is going to get a huge history lesson on Indians around the United States,” said Ken Adams, chief of the Upper Mattaponi tribe and festival coordinator.

“Most Americans don't realize how much the Indians actually struggled up until the 1970s and 1980s,” Adams said. “We're finally getting to the point where we're getting past that. We still have a ways to go. I want people to get a glimpse of our culture, part of our history, and come away learning something about what's going on.”

Red Cloud-Owen and Adams said they also hope the festival will help the cause of the six Virginia tribes attempting to get federal recognition. The Mattaponi and Pamunkey are not seeking that status.

In May, House Democrats pushed through a measure supporting federal recognition. The tribes now await Senate action.

Indian leaders say recognition would enable the tribes to tap into federal aid. But critics say it would be used to justify building Indian-run casinos in Virginia. The tribes have promised to forgo gaming rights.

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