Celebrating Indigenous People
11/25/2020, 6 p.m.
Dr. Walter Plecker, a physician, was the first registrar of Virginia’s Bureau of Vital Statistics, serving from 1912 to 1946. As a leader of the Anglo-Saxon Clubs of America, a white supremacist organization founded in Richmond, Dr. Plecker was a staunch promoter of eugenics. He commissioned Virginia’s “Act to Preserve Integrity” (1924 to 1967), which separated Virginia’s citizens into two simplified racial categories: White and Colored.
Dr. Plecker’s policies were used as deceptive scientific evi- dence to target Black people, poor white people and anyone his eugenicist colleagues considered “feebleminded.” His policy also emphasized that Virginia Indians were “mixed-blooded Negroes,” and pressured state agencies into reclassifying Indians as “colored.”
While I was researching my family tree using the Virginia Vital Statistics records, I found the marriage license register of my great-grandparents being checked as “colored.” After further review of those statistics records, I found that my family descended from the Patawomeck Indian Tribe of Stafford County. After discovering that lineage, I no longer felt invisible as my relationships were being formed at Native powwows, dancing in the circle of life to the heart of the drumbeat.
The powwow is a social meeting held by many Indigenous communities to meet and dance, sing, socialize and honor their cultures. They could be private or public. The powwow is where I learned the spirit of honoring our soldiers (warriors).
This year, in a progressive move toward abolishing Dr. Plecker’s era, Gov. Ralph S. Northam recognized November as Native American Heritage Month and Nov. 25 as American Indian Day of Appreciation in the Commonwealth.
As if being at a powwow with all Virginians, let us all stand proudly together during the month of November.
I may no longer dance or attend Native cultural events. However, my Patawomeck tribal card I still proudly carry, not only for my ancestral relatives who had to hide their culture from themselves and others, but as the warrior who is brave enough to shed tears for the lost ones and to keep repeating to all: The Virginia Indigenous People are still here. We never actually left.