WILLIAMSBURG — Virginia tribal leaders will direct a delegation to England to help plan the Jamestown 2007 anniversary and begin a healing process some American Indians say is 400 years in the making.
Chiefs from the Upper Mattaponi and Chickahominy tribes leave today on a weeklong trip to coordinate the two nations’ activities marking the 400th anniversary of the first permanent English settlement in North America.
They also hope to re-establish ties between the descendants of the original settlers and Virginia’s Indians, clearing ancient misunderstandings and reconciling differences. Settlers and natives had a complex relationship, marked by periods of understanding and spasms of violence.
“We want to hold hands in a peaceful way,” said Stephen Adkins, chief of the Tidewater area’s Chickahominy tribe, at a ceremony yesterday marking the trip.
He will accompany Chief Kenneth Adams of the Upper Mattaponi and Horace Mann, executive director of the Jamestown 400th Commemorative Commission. Another round of organizers leaves Tuesday.
In addition to attending a series of planning meetings, they will visit the Gravesend resting place of Pocahontas, who is credited with aiding American settlers.
Jamestown 2007 includes cultural events throughout Virginia and a series of festivals in England leading to the anniversary.
Planning for Jamestown’s 400th year, a process that started in 1997, has revealed differing interpretations of history. For instance, organizers first called the anniversary a celebration.
“We couldn’t in good conscience call it a celebration because it really devastated a way of life,” Mr. Adkins said.
The anniversary was rechristened a commemoration, and has since expanded to include the perspectives of American Indians and blacks, who were among the first Jamestown settlers.
Mr. Adkins points to a series of peace treaties made with settlers — and by extension England — during the 1600s. As America marks the arrival of those settlers, Mr. Adkins said it’s only appropriate to revive and honor the tenets of those treaties.
“We’ve had several years of an incomplete circle,” Mr. Adkins said. “When we touch those shores of England, that circle will be made whole.”
A larger contingent of about 30 American Indians will travel to England next year, said Karenne Wood, chairwoman of the Virginia Council on Indians.
While the chiefs build bridges abroad, six of Virginia’s eight tribes continue to seek federal recognition at home. If secured, it could bring a windfall of government assistance.
The Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Mattaponi, Monacan, Nansemond, Pamunkey, Rappahannock and Upper Mattaponi tribes were not on the list of 562 recognized tribes that last year got $6 billion from Congress.
Instead, they remain locked in a waiting game, Mr. Adkins said. He estimates his tribe has been waiting up to 20 years for their application to be approved; Mr. Adams’ tribe, at least seven years.
At least 3,000 to 4,000 Virginians trace their ancestry to Virginia’s indigenous tribes.
Delays have been linked to a backlog at the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, where a few years ago, officials estimated it could take more than a decade to process all the applications on hand. In February, officials reported hiring extra staff to improve things.
Miss Wood is counting on the United States to follow England’s lead.
“We’re hoping this will set a precedent in terms of letting the American government know other governments throughout the world feel the Virginia Indian nations should be acknowledged,” she said.