Thursday, February 29, 2024

Ten Questions with Fallon Burner

(The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)

HISTORIC TRIANGLE — “Ten Questions with” is a series that allows readers to get to know local business leaders, volunteers and community members in the Historic Triangle.

This week, meet Fallon Burner.

What is your job title and description?

Indigenous Historian for The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Community engagement is a big part of my job description. I engage with local tribes whose narratives we most intersect with in the Historic Area by showing up at powwows and other community events. And maybe most importantly, I try to center an Indigenous community perspective in what we do here at the Foundation. Rather than look at history with a European perspective — which would be easier since that is the perspective that most of the primary source material we have from the 18th century comes from — I look several layers deeper to tease out the Indigenous perspective.

Who do you interact/work with on a regular basis?

Colonial Williamsburg is a very interdisciplinary organization, so I regularly work with people from across the organization. I work very closely with the American Indian Initiative which includes two full-time interpreters who are themselves American Indian. I also work with the archaeology department, with colleagues at the Rockefeller Library, with the other Colonial Williamsburg historians, and with members of our wider division which includes research, training, and program design. And I interact with many people in the Historic Area, specifically the interpreters who are sharing the history I’m researching with our visitors; the tradespeople like the wig makers, the tailors, the silversmiths and the engravers who are creating period items related to Indigenous history; and the Nation Builders like Oconostota or George Washington whose narratives include or intersect with Indigenous peoples’ narratives.

What is something about your job most people wouldn’t know about?

People tend to think I can answer any question related to Indigenous history, but Indigenous history is not monolithic. No one Indigenous historian can be an expert in all of Indigenous America. It would be like saying you’re a Europeanist. There’s no such thing as a historian who could cover Russia and Italy and Scandinavia and be an expert in all those countries’ histories. I have to pick and choose the things that are more within my wheelhouse and be honest when I run up against a culture that I don’t have an extensive understanding of.

How do you define success?

I would consider myself successful in my role if an Indigenous historical perspective is within everything we do at the Foundation. I want the narratives we are telling to be so robust and visible that the tribes included in those narratives can see themselves respectfully reflected when they visit us. I would consider myself successful as a person if I am able to manage an ambitious position that allows me to serve my co-workers and community while maintaining work-life balance.

(The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)

What is your most successful accomplishment to date?

My thesis research that started during my undergrad work and continued into my master’s degree. Through that research, I collected oral histories with elders and did community engagement with the four Nations of the Wendat Confederacy. That research allowed me to
champion the language revitalization efforts that are happening in those communities, and being able to contribute to that conversation in a way that will remain stable for generations to come has felt like my most successful accomplishment to date.

What piece of advice would you give your younger self?

Consider your past as part of the fabric that made you. You will have many different dynamic parts of your life that you might not expect — it’s okay to switch gears and you can still be successful even if you’re not where you saw yourself initially.

How long have you lived in the greater Williamsburg/York area?

I grew up in York County. Then I left for almost 20 years before moving back for this job.

What is your favorite part of living here?

All the history, of course! We do living history here so well. That’s what made me interested in history as a kid — the fact that someone could be wearing secondary historical sources on their body in the form of historical clothing and could literally embody history. I also love all of our waterways and plants — it smells so nice here.

What do you do for downtime/to relax?

What is downtime and relaxing? No, all kidding aside, I do like to go out into nature whether that’s being on the shore or canoeing. I also do beading, I shoot traditional archery, I read, and I’m getting started on learning some traditional skills like how to make clothing and arrows. I also play with my kittens who are both named “Cat” in two different Indigenous languages:

Wuh-chin-gwey (the local Powhatan word for small wild cat) and Ta-koosh (the Wyandot name for domestic cat).

What is the next step in your journey?

I’m looking at Indigenous strategy overall for Colonial Williamsburg — how to make our
program more visible and how to recruit more people. The first step on that journey is
remembering and bringing back to life the stories of the students of the Brafferton Indian School of the 18th century, whose students would have spent time here in our Historic Area as well as on campus. Today, 39 modern Indigenous Nations are descendants of the students of the Brafferton Indian School, and I want to make sure those students’ stories and their presence here in Williamsburg is acknowledged and honored.

Visit The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation to learn more about programs and events.

Do you want to learn more about your community and the people that live and work in the Historic Triangle? We are looking for people with interesting jobs, super volunteers, or community leaders to showcase. Reach out to let us know if you (or someone you know) would like to be considered for Ten Questions.

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