Wednesday, November 25, 2020

NATIONAL NATIVE AMERICAN HERITAGE WEEK No. 3

THE DISMISSED FOUNDER

Truth & Reconciliation


Edited by Kiros Auld (Pamunkey/Tauxenent)


Above: An idealized image of Wahunsenacawh, the Second Powhatan,
a Founding Father and originator of Capitol Hill’s deliberative body from
which we derived the Powhatan Algonquian word and process, a caucus.


Wahunsenacawh, a six-footer in his 60s, publicly known as Powhatan, in spite of his fame, is an American enigma. This most dismissed Amerindian statesman shares the anonymity awarded to today’s Native American populations and their histories. Ironically, one of his many children from over 100 ceremonial wives, a minor daughter, Pocahontas, is better known than North America’s most powerful 17th century leader. To better understand the American Government’s adoration for her, they prominently installed a gigantic painting of her baptism in the Capitol Rotunda. Afflicted by the Stockholm syndrome and coerced into bigamy, she achieved the status of virtual Christian sainthood in America’s pro-accommodationist Eurocentric history. Even less known is one of her brothers, Taux Powhatan whose mother was a Tauxenent of Fairfax County origin, and one of WashingtonDC’s three historically named tribal nations.


From North Carolina northward, Powhatan II's territory spanned large areas within the state of eastern Virginia. This expansion was less in southern Maryland and included at least the North and Southwest quadrants of District of Columbia, part of his ever expanding northern border on the Cohonkarutan or Potomac River. Yet, some writers today have belatedly sought to either diminish his influence over his domain or include petty kingdoms within his unique political category. His negotiating prowess among highly individualistic Native personas was misunderstood by the English who equated him with a European despot. Inter-ethnic marriage (via warfare?) and trade came with favored status. Pearls, mostly worn by the nobility, came from northern Iroquoian mussels while prized trade copper came from Iroquoians to the South. Siouans to the Piedmont west, were not similarly regarded by the Powhatans. Expansionist Iroquoian and Siouan competition was the norm that had spanned eons. The later demise of the Anacostia River’s Nacotchtank of DC after English contact is evidence of a more violent approach to acquiring trade goods. In this instance it was the highly prized Nochotank beaver pelts which became the envy of English (Jamestown), Algonquian (Patawomeck) and Iroquoian (Susquehannock) speakers.



Truth: Correcting and amending America’s history about its overlooked Amerindian founder. 
Reconciliation: Reconcile America’s stepchild treatment towards its indigenous people

In National Native Heritage Month, our city in the District of Columbia needs a South African styled Truth & Reconciliation with its Indigenous descendants.

Wahunsenachaw’s territorial paramountcy began in Tidewater Virginia where his mother was born a Pamunkey and his father, Powhatan the First, had reportedly come from the South to organize a Central American styled eight nation Algonquian confederation. The Pamunkey, whose spiritually associated name was the “Place of the Sweat” was a temple city. They were the leading nation in  the chiefdom that became a paramountcy under Wahunsenacawh. Although the collective Indigenous name for the people that the English called “Powhatans,” self-identified by descriptively named maternal tribal origin. 


The vast Powhatan territorial influence began at Tsenacomoco in a territory also called Attan Akamik, meaning “Our Fertile Country.” Wahunsenacawh is popularly written about by his title, “Powhatan” or “Dreamer.” He therefore, was Powhatan the Second (Powhatan II) whose Paramountcy’s domain included five American historical capitals. First was Tsenacocomoco, second was Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg (both during the British colonial era), next was the Seat of the Confederacy headquartered at Richmond. And finally in the far northern boundary, our Nation’s Capital of Washington, DC, reputed as his favorite place to caucus with surrounding Amerindian nations. Although an Algonquian werowance (leader) of a vast kingdom or paramountcy, it was chronicled that, for whatever reason, “Powhatan never left his area” of dominance


Are our children adequately informed about the Amerindian Hemisphere in which they live?


My answer is, NO. My experiences in the American educational system from the elementary to the postgraduate levels have formed my view of its collective ignorance about our hemisphere’s Amerindian histories and locale. Married for 54 years, right out of Howard University in 1966, into a Washington Metropolitan Area Powhatan Paramountcy family with educators and historians, I taught in the Washington, DC educational systems for 38 years. Throughout my teaching tenure my main concern had been to correct the benign avoidance of Indigenous Amerindian influences in the forming of our societies in the Americas. I began with both my Columbus encountered Caribbean homeland and in my adopted city of the District of Columbia, which was ironically named after the enigmatic man who had never set foot here. Thank goodness for National Native American Heritage Month, which was intended as remedial courses centered on the Indigenous people of this land. However, the thrust of the month’s original educational intention, is yet to be realized in 2020. Confusion about Amerindian histories and cultures abound in their hemisphere which is often confused as "European” or “African,“ depending on the dominant island or continental group. North America is envisioned as if it is geographically located in Europe, while some Caribbean Islands identify as culturally African. South and Central America are identified by their Spanish language and are therefore called “Hispanic." To underscore the notion of geographic confusion, a large sign on a Jamestown, Virginia wall states that "America is a suburb of Europe."

 

Popular American history is unabashedly Eurocentric. Except for the Egyptian styled obelisk, called the iconic Washington Monument, our city is replete with "Egypto-Greek" influenced structures intended as monuments to power in order to concretize an imported European ethnic dominance. Our educational institutions have followed suit. 

 

Most citizens, therefore, have scant information on the Amerindian core upon which the foundation of the American culture was built. For example, the Iroquoian “Great Laws of Peace,” a home-grown source of the US Constitution, formed the foundation of America’s democratic notions that was once euphemistically ascribed to the distant Greeks. Even touted “American Individualism" is Native American based, first emulated and adopted by arriving subjugated English royalists. The increasing numbers of arriving English indentures were then free to hunt deer that did not belong to the king, marry Native women to acquire female-owned land, and go Native. Adapting to and surviving in an alien Amerindian hemisphere had to be taught to the arriving Spanish and later English, as exemplified by the latter's Squanto’s tutelage in corn planting in New England, and Pocahontas’ lessons on curing tobacco leaves, the Caribbean’s Taino Amerindian’s sacred weed turned cash crop which financed the American Revolution.

 

However, before the Iroquoian Confederation’s influence on the US Constitution through Benjamin Franklin and other contributors from the 13 colonies, there was the Virginia colony's Powhatan Algonquian caucus which left an indelible mark on the American form of governance. This Algonquian political structure is still practiced today where it was fathered by Wahunsennachaw and reborn on Capitol Hill. Not all of the tenants of Great Laws of Peace were immediately adopted by the US Constitution. Notably missing from the US version was the Iroquoian law where "women played an important role in politics under the Great Law.” In the US Constitution, women's rights came much later.

 

The Powhatans were the "most complex societies, from a sociological perspective, then extant in the eastern North America” (Rountree). They were a well travelled cosmopolitan people of the Eastern Woodlands whose political dominance was recognized by both their indigenous neighbors and the arriving Europeans. They were admired, envied or feared by whomever they interacted. There is no question about the dominance of Wahunsenachaw’s Powhatan Paramountcy over an extremely large expanding territory that was greater than the size of today’s Maryland and Washington, DC combined. Wahunsennachaw's governance was not tyrannical nor was it controlling, but reflected various levels of independence and interdependence in a geography rife with ethnic competition between the three major linguistic groups. His gift of persuasion and oratory is exemplified by his recorded speech to Captain John Smith.

 

"In the past three decades, anthropologists and historians have become more critical of early colonial sources and less willing to follow their own predecessors’ naming practices without having very good reason to do so” (Rountree).

 


The cover design of a definitive book edited by Dr. Helen Rountree,
anthropologist and historian, who is an expert on the Powhatan Paramountcy. The illustration of Powhatan holding court was recorded by Captain John Smith.


Werowance Wahunsenachaw’s Territorial Claim

For the past 401 years, except for the Powhatan Paramountcy, no other Native American political group in the Metropolitan DC Area has captured the attention of historians. The importance of this Native political force is evidenced by the many publications, treatise, movies, internet & media coverage, locales, personalities, and wars associated with the Powhatans. No other Amerindian polities in our DC Metropolitan area have been so studied.

Not so, for her father who was the person responsible for allowing the eventual creation of the United States of America on his territory. Local fame also eludes his succeeding brother, 
Opechancanough whose Anglo-Powhatan wars were for America’s first homeland security efforts. It is not an exaggeration to say that without Wahunsenacawh, there would be no country called “America." In the current era of inclusiveness, this is a call for historical truth and reconciliation with America’s most downtrodden population whose lives also matter.

Land Acknowledgement

At least the three countries officially have a Land Acknowledgement program. In the US, this practice of honoring Indigenous territory is not yet governmentally instituted. Colonial confiscated homeland is in the bullseye of history. Some private American entities have risen to this noble call for acknowledging the specific Indigenous Amerindian people on whose ancestral territory their structures were built. 

 

Canada, Australia and New Zealand, as well as more and more of private US institutions are coming to grips with the Truth portion of this honorable proposal. Reconciliation requires more intestinal fortitude. Reparations is only spoken about as redressing African enslavement and not that of Amerindians who were the first in that "peculiar institution.' The truth & reconciliation rationale is based on addressing the pervasive wrongs of European colonization, annexation of indigenous territories and lionizing land grabbing “Settlers."


How is a Powhatan Land Acknowledgement done?


A DC based Land Acknowledgement video with Rose Powhatan (Pamunkey/Tauxenent) done for the Sankofa Foundation’s commemoration of
the 55th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.

Go to YouTube if video doesn’t pay https://youtu.be/lbntMSQXGiE

 

RECAP

Where did he get his political savvy? For these answers, one must look at what was reported by his people, his title and at least a physical cultural retention, funerary mound-building for Wahunsenacawh on the Pamunkey Reservation. Was his male lineage, as some believe, from as far south as the Maya whom we know were highly sophisticated pyramid builders as well as avid traders and long distant travelers? The 5,000-year Mound Builders of Ohio with temples on top, is a Mesoamerican creation similar to the spread of corn, which traveled along a similar northern route. Was his father's watercraft carried up from the south by a hurricane in a similar way that early North American dugout and skin canoes ended up on African and European (from Roman times) shores via Atlantic storms? Let us entertain this notion here.


Today, Native American politics has continued to be quite involved and sometimes contentious. This rewriting trend of traditional boundaries, is also seen within contemporary WashingtonDC’s Native politics. Recently, three family related Maryland state-recognized self-identified Iroquoian tribes are making claims on DC and Virginia, sans DNA evidence of descent from a 1680s extinct Algonquian DC tribe, the genetically disappeared Nacotchtank of Anacostia. The current expansionists have ignored the surviving descendants of the two other named historic DC tribes, the Pamunkey/Pomonkey and the Tauxenant or Dogue who still live in the city and its Metropolitan Area. The recently organized, politically aggressive Maryland tribes are located 27 miles away from our city’s borders in Southern Maryland and already have a legal nation to nation relationship with their own governor's capital in Annapolis. Some of their members are also making unsupported political claims on the entire 10 squared mile WashingtonDC. The claimants have since extended their indigenous myth into neighboring Northern Virginia’s Powhatan-Tauxenent ancestral territory. One of their outlandish proclamations also now includes a claim on part of the state of Delaware.

 

The Eastern Woodlands Algonquian leader, Wahunsenachaw, in 1607 claimed at least thirty-odd nations/tribes in his domain. This assertion was backed up by the identified nations when later contacted by the English, especially in John Smith’s account. Added to this easy intertribal access was the geographic layout of the landscape, dotted by many streams and well travelled rivers which were not necessarily tribal borders but highways. US Route 1 was an overland highway which started as an animal trail turned Amerindian travel route, turned wagon trail. Earlier Spanish ships only mentioned the few “caciques” (leaders) whom they fleetingly met. The later English camps only knew about those few close-by nations and other distant ones mentioned by area Amerindians.


The Amerindians of the Powhatan Paramountcy were surrounded by petty chiefdoms. The cohesive group called Powhatans held sway over 
an extensive 18,700 to 19,259 square mile territory from North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, to Washington, DC, which included over 32-34 Algonquian nations. Politically labeled as a kingdom by the English royalists, called a “chiefdom" by detractors, the werowance and weroansqua (male and female leaders) governed by a democratic deliberative styled caucus.

 


Pawahaatuun, A Maya sculpture in Copan, Mexico of the Ancient One, a god within the Maya pantheon who held up the four corners of the world.

 

Wahunsenacawh was the son of the first Powhatan, an arriving “dreamer” who began North America’s first Amerindian group of  nations under the leadership of one person. This governmental entity had the earmarks of an empire or a kingdom, which is a group of nations ruled over by an individual. This description fits Powhatan the First since he had come from the south where there were city states and empires, His title, "Powhatan,” has a Mayan concept in their Pawahaatuun, who was associated with the calendar god who positioned himself at the four corners of the sky, holding up the world.

 

Whatever is believed, the facts of our Amerindian foundation is an indisputable historical reality not widely promoted. This overlooked segment of our nation's history perpetuates the unrealistic myth of a European based entitlement which is daily played out in our National discourse.

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