Sunday, April 14, 2024

Jamestown Settlement’s annual powwow brings out the voices of native women

Jamestown Settlement's annual American Indian Intertribal Powwow will have a special focus on native women this year. (WYDaily/Courtesy Jamestown Settlement)
Jamestown Settlement’s annual American Indian Intertribal Powwow will have a special focus on native women this year. (WYDaily/Courtesy Jamestown Settlement)

The American Indian Intertribal Powwow returns Jamestown Settlement this October, but this time with a twist.

“I think [native women] are something we just don’t discuss well,” said Martin Saniga, Jamestown Settlement assistant site supervisor for the Powhatan Indian village. “Most people only know of Pocahontas. She’s become this mythic figure and her stories are in the context of the English people, there’s not a whole lot of education about what she was doing as a native woman in her own society.”

This year’s annual powwow will focus on the stories and experiences of native women in the area in accordance with Jamestown Settlement’s yearlong program, “TENACITY: Women in Jamestown and Early Virginia,” according to a news release from the settlement.

RELATED STORY: The women of Jamestown come to life with new exhibit and tours

Saniga said telling those stories can be difficult sometimes because a lot of the written primary documents about native people, and the women, are from an observational stance of the English. Many records only depict certain descriptive aspects about their bodies and tattoos, which poses a problem in context because they aren’t providing concrete evidence on the native women and their interactions.

“As native people, we get forgotten about,” he said. “Our histories and stories aren’t necessarily accurate or well-documented. We have to talk about the importance of native women now and 400 years ago.”

All has not been lost, he said, because researchers are able to learn from the oral tradition of native people as well as from information regarding surrounding tribes. Saniga said the Powhatan are part of the large Algonquin culture which means certain aspects of their society are shared throughout the region.

Saniga said it is especially helpful to use that context in collaboration with the English’s observations in order to better understand life for the native woman.

One of the most interesting aspects of this type of research, he said, is to learn the difference between the place of English women and native women in their respective societies. 

Saniga said research shows Powhatan women could own property, were leaders in their communities and even had the power to leave their husbands.

“I think when you look back, you can look and see traditions that have survived and how they’ve changed,” he said. “In some communities, women are re-establishing their roles in leadership. It helps to create balance.”

This year’s events will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Oct. 12 and 13.

Both days will feature a “Grand Entry” with a parade of dancers that will perform in a circle at 12:30 p.m. and then continue singing and dancing until 4:30 p.m.

Additionally, there will be a Diné flutist and American Indian storytelling by Grace Ostrum of the Accohannock.

Children and families will also be able to design a variety of crafts, such as American Indian rattles. 

The museum mall will also feature a selection of American Indian artwork, pottery and quilt-work for sale.

Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at

Related Articles