Trying to set the record straight on local Indian tribe’s history

Published 8:20 am Wednesday, July 8, 2009

For the past five years, beginning in 2004, the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian Tribe, Southampton County, has published a tribal journal depicting the local history of the tribe here in Southside Virginia, particularly Southampton County.

Recently, Issues I through V were archived into the collections department of the Library of Virginia and stored in its current periodical section.

I am a firm believer that the American Indian people (first Americans) must begin writing their own history because historical writings are normally written under the color of the persuasiveness of those writing the history. In many cases the history of my people was written by the colonials.

A clear example of this is the derogatory name by which my people are remembered — Nottoway — when, according to documented facts, the true name of the Nottoway Indian is Cheroenhaka, which means “People at the Fork of the Stream.”

In accordance with a recent article that appeared in the newspaper, Indian County Today, many American Indian nations are on the quest of correcting the “colonial” attempt to demise and misrepresent Native tribes by referring to them by a name, other than their own, normally one which could be easily pronounce or associated with a river and/or land mass near where the tribe lodged.

In many cases, colonials gave the name to an Indian Nation based on what they were called by an enemy tribe. Such was the case with the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) here in Southampton County. Edward Bland, a merchant, wrote in his diary (1650), the Algonquian name Na-da-wa, which means snake, adder or enemy, to describe my people here in Southampton County.

The name Na-da-wa eventually became Nottoway.

Over the past eight years, by way of numerous colleges, historical societies, military installations, elementary schools, museums and libraries, in an effort to set the history straight, I have given numerous “documented” ethno-historical American Indian lectures and speaking engagements and took part in television documentaries to set the record straight for my learned educational colleagues.

Over the years, we have been on the quest of telling the true ethno historic story of my people in an attempt to correct the tribe’s demeaning Algonquian Colonial name given to my people — hence we say Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) in the same breath so that the general populace would come to realize that Cheroenhaka and Nottoway are one and the same. The difference is that Cheroenhaka is the true name of my people. Such is the mission of our annual tribal journal, the Was-ke-hee.

We are currently working on Issue VI of the Waskehee. This year’s theme for the Journal is “Walking In The Path Of Knowledge,” and will highlight the written interaction between Thomas Jefferson and Peter S. DuPonceau, Esq. in July and August 1820 germane to the recorded language of the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian Tribe here in Southampton County — to include our tribe’s vocabulary.