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December 04, 2015

Meet Native America: Troy Adkins, Chickahominy Tribal Council Member

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. —Dennis Zotigh

Troy Adkins

Chickahominy Tribal Council Member Troy Adkins.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

My name is Troy Adkins, and I'm a member of the Chickahominy Tribal Council. 

Can you share your Native name? 

It's Dancing Hawk. 

Where is your tribal community located?

The Chickahominy Tribe is located in Charles City County and New Kent County, Virginia. Our tribal center and tribal grounds are in Providence Forge. 

Where is your tribe originally from?

We are still living in our ancestral land in Charles City County, Virginia.

The area was also known as Chickahominy Ridge. It's situated between the Chickahominy River to the north and the James (Powhatan) River to the south. 

What is a significant point in history from your tribe that you would like to share?

Throughout history we, along with other Virginia tribes, were known as the Powhatan people. Chief Powhatan, whose original name was Wahunsenacah, ruled over several tribes, but the Chickahominy were never under his rule. We were fierce warriors and too large for Wahunsenacah to rule over. Thus, we were allies to him and his chiefdom. We are Chickahominy, the Coarse Pounded Corn People. Colonists would recognize that they were among the Chickahominy by the way we ground or pounded our corn. 

How is your tribal government set up?

Our tribal government consists of a 12-member Tribal Council, including a chief, a first assistant chief, a second assistant chief, and nine tribal members.  

Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?

Before European contact, the Chickahominy Tribe was ruled by a council of elders, or munguy. Our modern leadership and Tribal Council members are elected by the tribal body at our tribal meeting. Names on the ballot must be submitted to the Tribal Council to be eligible. 

How often are elected leaders chosen?

Leaders are elected to a four-year term. If a leadership position becomes vacant within the term, a special election is held. The position terms are staggered so as not to have all the position terms end at the same time. 

How often does your Tribal Council meet?

The Tribal Council meets monthly. The tribal body meets bimonthly.

At the tribal meetings, any council recommendations or issues that need to be voted upon by the tribal membership are discussed and decided, and any tribal business updates are shared. 

Chickahominy Council Member Troy Adkins
Council Member Adkins.

How did your life experience prepare you to lead your tribe?

I have always been involved in our tribal affairs, whether through dancing in our traditional tribal dance group, through culture classes, or as a member of the Tribal Council. In additional to tribal leadership, I have served on various local boards and councils, such as the Virginia Council on Indians and the Vocational Education Advisory Council for Charles City County. 

What responsibilities do you have as a community leader?

My primary responsibility is leading our culture classes for tribal members and other local Natives in our area. 

I have a wonderful wife and family, along with a host of friends to help with the classes. It is good to see our youth and elders come out to our tribal center to support our culture classes. We teach our tribal dances, drumming, and singing, as well as some of the pow wow dances.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

Former Chickahominy Second Assistant Chief and Council Member Glenn Canaday. He taught me the value in being proud to be Chickahominy, but also how the public needs to know who we are and how we can use every opportunity to educate to others. 

His wealth of knowledge on our tribal history and traditional outfit making was an asset to me as well. 

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? If so, who?

The Chickahominy is such a small tribe. Chief Leonard Lone Wolf Adkins, a former chief, was an uncle of mine. In the late 1940s he was one of the first Virginia Natives to attend Bacone College, an Indian school and the oldest university in Oklahoma. To me, that is significant. During that time Natives could not get a post-secondary education in Virginia.

Approximately how many members are in the Chickahominy Tribe?

There are more than 900 members, with fewer than 10 percent living out of state.

What are the criteria to become a member of your tribe? 

We use our 1901 tribal roll. Members can trace their descent back to that roll. 

Is your language still spoken on your homelands? 

Unfortunately we do not have our language spoken. We are in the process, hopefully, of reviving our language. We spoke an Algonquin dialect. We have writings and other sources, such as books that have words of our language. Some of our drum groups have written or composed songs with some of our words. Our desire is one day to have it spoken among our people. 

What economic enterprises does your tribe own? 

We do not own any tribal enterprises. We do have a few Chickahominy who are business owners and are very successful. 

What annual events does your tribe sponsor? 

We have our annual Chickahominy Fall Festival and pow wow, which is held in September. We are proud to say that next year will be our 65th event. We have held the festival longer, but only 65 years ago did we open it up to the public. Before that it was a private event and celebration. 

What other attractions are available for visitors on your land? 

We do have a tribal center, but it is not staffed. Our plans are to expand the center and to include a museum for the public to visit. 

How does your tribe deal with the United States as a sovereign nation? 

We are not federally recognized at this moment. We are in the process of seeking federal recognition. We currently have a great relationship with the state of Virginia and hope to have the same with our U.S. government when we receive federal recognition. 

What message would you like to share with the youth of your tribe?

The youth are dear to my heart. They are our future. I hope they take the time to learn who they are as Chickahominy and be proud that they are descendants of a strong nation. Through all of the adversity our ancestors endured, it is because of them and the favor of Creator that we are still here. Take the time to learn your history. 

Thank you. 

Thank you. 

 
Photos courtesy of the Chickahominy Tribe; used with permission. 

To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below. Meet-native-america
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission. 

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