Students enrolled in "Untold Stories, Vanished Peoples" recently traveled to the
Pamunkey Indian Reservation.
Randolph-Macon College students enrolled in the First-Year
Experience course “Untold Stories, Vanished Peoples: The Construction of
‘Other’ American Identities” recently traveled to the Pamunkey Indian Reservation.
The reservation, in King William County, Virginia, is the oldest in the United States.
“Untold Stories, Vanished Peoples,” taught by Professors Reber Dunkel (sociology)
and Kimberly Borchard (Spanish), reaches beyond
contemporary identity politics and mainstream narratives of the American past by
exploring the forgotten stories—and histories—of lesser-known population groups
of the United States. Combining historical, literary, autobiographical, and sociological
approaches, the course unearths the buried stories of the “real” America, with all
its ambiguity, complexity and richness.
On a chilly fall morning, Dunkel, Borchard and their students arrived at the “Pocket,”
an alcove on the river of the Pamunkey Indian Reservation.
“Our outfitter and his ‘sweeps’—assistants—were unloading kayaks and canoes when
we arrived,” says Dunkel. “After a crash course on safety, our flotilla set off
in choppy waters. We saw dying trees in a tidal swamp—probably due to sea-level
rise, a consequence of climate change—and arrow arum plants, known as Tuckahoe,
the roots of which are made into flour by Native Americans in the region.”
After a picnic lunch at the base of Powhatan’s burial mound, the group toured the
Pamunkey Museum, whose exhibits reflect the 10,000-year history of the Pamunkey
tribe. Pamunkey Chief Kevin Brown discussed the history and culture of the Pamunkey
and life on the reservation.
“In pre-colonial times the Pamunkey peoples had many matrilineal traditions, including
selecting chiefs via matrilineal descent,” explains Borchard. “Chief Brown noted
it was only this year that women became eligible to be on the governing Tribal Council.
He also briefed us on the status of the tribe’s application for federal recognition.
Chief Brown said that the two most important enduring cultural traditions that are
central to the tribe’s identity are shad fishing and pottery making. At the end
of the tour, he showed us the former reservation school, which they hope will someday
be used as community center.”
For Matt Simon ’16, one of the most memorable parts of the trip
took place during the kayak excursion.
“It was great to be in the area where two notable figures, Captain John Smith and
Chief Powhatan, once stood,” says Simon. “We also got a chance to see the burial
site of Chief Powhatan, which gave us a great visual reference for the history we
“Just as their ancestors did, the Pamunkey fish and hunt around the river for food
and sources of income,” says Michael Wallman ’16. “They own duck
blinds for hunting, which they rent to hunters as an additional source of income.
The river is central to the Pamunkey Indians’ heritage and survival.”
In February 2013, Dunkel and Borchard will bring documentary filmmaker Julie Dixon
to campus for a viewing and discussion of her documentary “Melungeon Voices,” which
focuses on a little-known population of mixed ancestry native to the Appalachian
mountain region. This event, which is free and open to the public, will take place
on February 18, 2013 at 7:00 p.m. in the Topping Room, Old Chapel.