Elementary students visit Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Powwow

Published 1:09 pm Saturday, November 4, 2017

Over 1,200 students from elementary schools across Hampton Roads traveled to the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Powwow Grounds in Courtland on Friday for the tribe’s 22nd annual School Day. The event coincides with the tribe’s annual Powwow, held the first weekend in November, and the beginning of Native American History Month.

Sixteen schools participated this year: Nottoway, Capron, Riverdale, Meherrin, Windsor, Westside, Southwestern, Sussex, Montessori of Suffolk and Chesapeake, Carmel School, Suffolk Christian Academy, Ryan Academy and three home schools. Buses arrived at the Powwow Grounds at 8:45 a.m.

Students began the day by dividing into groups of 50 to 60 and being assigned a tribal tour guide. From 9 to 10:30 a.m., each group had the opportunity to visit various Native American arts and crafts demonstrators who had set up booths for the Powwow. These included beading and basket weaving, blow guns, hand drums, hide tanning, corn grinding and more.

Next, the students proceeded to the language booth, where they learned several Iroquoian words and phrases. The Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) are one of several Iroquoian-speaking tribes in Virginia. Other native languages in use during the 17th century when natives first made contact with Europeans were Siouan and Algonquian.

Chief Walt “Red Hawk” Brown, the tribe’s current leader, explained to the children that “Nottoway” is actually not the true name of his tribe, and that they actually refer to themselves as “Cheroenhaka.” They became known as the Nottoway when English colonists heard natives belonging to the Algonquian-speaking Powhatan Confederation refer to the Cheroenhaka as “Na-da-wa,” which in Algonquian translates to “snake” or “enemy.”

Iroquoian, however, remains the only native language in Virginia to have been recorded. John Woods, a professor at the College of William and Mary in 1820 documented it from then-Cheroenhaka Queen Edith Turner, also known as Wane’ Roonseraw.

The children also had the opportunity to watch and participate in tribal dances with two dancers from Mexico City descended from Aztecs, and to tour Cattashowrock Town, a recreation of the 17th-century Palisade Iroquoian village that William Byrd II of Westover described after his visit to what is now Southampton County on April 7 and 8, 1728.

Brown also showed the children several Native American artifacts and explained that the tribe’s latest goals are to achieve federal tribal recognition and to raise funds for a museum to house the entire collection. The tribe achieved official recognition by the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1851.

“We have more than 5,000 pieces of artifacts dating back 10,000 years,” he said.

Students attending Southampton County schools departed the Powwow grounds at around 12:30 p.m. for a division-wide early dismissal. The rest remained until 2 p.m. The Powwow festivities continued Friday evening with a tribal scholarship fundraiser bonfire titled “Natives Dancing Around the Fire” at 7 p.m. and will continue Saturday and Sunday. Gates will be open from 10 a.m. to sunset with a Powwow Grand Entry at noon.