Return to the River
By Chai Gallahun, Editor
Jun 9, 2017, 16:15
Lance Gallahun (center) performs “A Place in the World” with his classmates from DuPont Elementary School in Hopewell. The event was a lively intersection of dance, music and Rappahannock culture.
Many students from Hopewell elementary schools recently participated in a dance education program called Minds in Motion that culminated in a series of performances at the Carpenter Theatre Performing Arts Center in Richmond. There, students performed in the Return to the River show that was created in a partnership between Minds in Motion and the Rappahannock Tribe of Virginia. The Minds in Motion performance featured over 1,600 students from 24 schools across Virginia. Three Hopewell elementary schools participated, including DuPont, Harry E. James and Patrick Copeland.
But, what exactly is Return to the River, and what did the students learn? Over the past year, students have been learning about the history, culture and present-day values of the Rappahannock Tribe as they rehearsed steps and choreography for their performance. The students were exposed to the rich culture of the Rappahannock and how their community thrives by preserving age-old traditions and tribal values.
When DuPont student Lance Gallahun was asked about his experience with Minds in Motion and Return to the River, he said, “It was like being at the river. I learned how to dance, and about the Chief and her story.” He explained that the Rappahannock Tribe had had a female Chief a long time ago, and now they have one again. “I learned about her story, her childhood. It was hard for her because she had to go to a public school, and the students kept bullying her.”
About the overall experience, Lance said, “It made me feel happy. Dancing in front of so many people made me feel happy.” Happy, indeed, as the students from Hopewell elementary schools performed before a packed house at the Carpenter Theatre. And, judging by the audience reaction to the performance, they were quite happy as well. Another aspect of Return to the River was how the audience learned about the Rappahannock Tribe while being entertained by energetic, profound music and thoughtful dance routines.
What do most Hopewellians know about the Rappahannock Tribe? Surely many have heard of them, but how much do most of us A brief history about the Rappahannock is called for. They were officially recognized by the State of Virginia on March 25, 1983. Chief G. Anne Richardson was sworn in as Chief of the Rappahannock in 1998, and is the first female Native American chief in Virginia since Cockcoeske became the ruler of the Powhatan Confederacy in the mid-1600s. Chief Richardson succeeds her father, Chief Captain Chawanta Nelson who served for 34 years as chief.
Going back further in Rappahannock history, we discover a rich weaving of events according to their historical accounts. The Rappahannocks first met Captain John Smith in December 1607 at their capital town “Topahanocke” on the banks of the river bearing their name. Smith returned to the Rappahannock’s homeland in the summer of 1608. He mapped 14 fourteen Rappahannock villages on the north side of the river. The Rappahannock’s territory on the south side of the Rappahannock River was their primary hunting grounds.
English settlement in the Rappahannock River valley began illegally in the 1640s. By the late 1660s, encroaching settlers and frontier vigilantes forced the Rappahannocks to move, first inland on the north side of the Rappahannock River and later to their ancestral hunting grounds on the south side of the river.
During Bacon’s Rebellion, the Rappahannocks hid with other Tribes in the Dragon Swamp to avoid English vigilantes. After the rebellion, the Rappahannocks consolidated at one village. In November 1682, the Virginia Council laid out 3,474 acres for the Rappahannock “about the town where they dwelt.” One year later, the Virginia colony forcibly removed the Tribe from their homes and relocated them to Portobago Indian Town. Within a year, the Rappahannocks were, once again, driven from their homes. The Rappahannocks returned to their ancestral homelands downriver, where they continue to live today.
The Rappahannocks initiated plans to build a cultural center and museum. In 1995, they began construction of the cultural center project and completed two phases by 1997. Phase three, a planned museum, is in the planning stages.
The Rappahannocks host their traditional Harvest Festival and Powwow annually on the second Saturday in October at their Cultural Center in Indian Neck, Virginia. They have a traditional dance group called the Rappahannock Native American Dancers and a Drum group called the Maskapow Drum Group, which means “Little Beaver” in the Powhatan language. Both of these groups perform locally and abroad in their efforts to educate the public on Rappahannock history and tradition.
The mission of the Tribe is to preserve Rappahannock culture, social structures, and political structures while educating the public on the rich contributions that Rappahannocks have made and continue to make to Virginia and the Nation.
While the Return to the River performance at the Carpenter Center did not go into this level of detail about the Rappahannocks, it did serve as a vibrant and energetic intersection of music, dance and historic and cultural awareness.