Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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Excerpts by Henry Lane Hull

Henry Lane Hull

The lecture series sponsored by the Northern Neck 250th Committee in anticipation of our country’s 250th anniversary in 2026 continued this past Sunday with a fascinating address by Chief Anne Richardson of the Rappahannock Tribe. Chief Anne is the fourth generation of her family to serve as chief, a position to which she first was elected in 1998. She is the first female chief of a Virginia tribe since the early 18th century.

Over the course of her years in office, she has been able to expand the Tribe’s presence in their ancestral lands, through the purchase of property for which she is planning a variety of uses in keeping with their historical role on both sides of the Rappahannock River. One of her ancestors was a Medicine Man, and she hopes to introduce traditional tribal herbal plants on part of the Tribe’s property, making them available for purchase by the public at large. The venture would emphasize traditional natural practices of maintaining good health and stamina, including having an apothecary on the farm.

In her lecture, Chief Anne began by speaking of the native peoples who lived here 10,000 years ago and the emergence of towns between 1200 and 1500 A.D. The Tribe has acquired the site of one of the three towns that had emerged during that time. She noted the importance of the introduction of corn as a crop that was tended by the tribal women and the coming of the bow and arrow that allowed for greater hunting success by the males.

She described Captain John Smith’s 1608 voyage of discovery up the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries and the multiple chiefdoms he encountered. What he saw ultimately resulted in an international treaty between the King of England and the Virginia Tribes, clustered under Powhatan who came to power in the 1590s. As a result of the Treaty of Albany in 1722, the Tribes obtained a status in international law. In 2020 the Sovereign Nations of Virginia Council was established to form a means of giving the Tribes greater prominence collectively in putting forth their positions viz-a-viz the Commonwealth and nationally.

The relations between the Commonwealth and the Virginia Tribes underwent a critically significant advance in 1964 with the passage of legislation that guaranteed tribal children the right to public education. Today, the Rappahannock Tribe numbers 300 members. Chief Anne is working to obtain land acknowledgements as well as to introduce a language program that will teach tribal members, and others who wish to learn, their ancestral language.

The Tribe’s present goals consist in restoring the land, cleaning the waterways and reintroducing and protecting native fish. In that regard, her lecture was quite contemporary in its theme, reflective of the good life that the native peoples once had, and which the Rappahannock Tribe hopes to bring back.

Chief Anne quoted a maxim from her late father, Captain Nelson, (Captain was his given name and not a title) who preceded her as Chief, “If you do not know where you have been, you cannot possibly know where you are going.” The Rappahannock Tribe in our time, although reduced in numbers from the days of Captain John Smith, under Chief Anne’s leadership is refining and reclaiming its historical heritage, setting an example of good stewardship of the land and its resources and serving as a model of sound government.

Chief Anne’s talk reminded the audience that as we approach the Nation’s 250th anniversary, we must remember that upon their arrival in the New World the early English colonists encountered native peoples who in their tribal relationships offered the first example of freedom from tyranny in favor of independence.

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