Native American Influence
Settlers needed help to survive in a new land
Chief Steven Atkins (right) meets with Scholastic News Kid Reporters Trevor Brady (left) and Lisa Saunders in Jamestown, Virginia, November 2006. (Photo by Suzanne Freeman)
Many people will celebrate the birth of America at the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement in Virginia. One group of people, however, will be involved in that celebration as a reminder that America is really much older than that.
“It didn’t all begin in 1607,” said Steven Atkins, Chief of Virginia’s Chickahominy tribe. “Our people had been here for thousands of years.”
Native Americans were an essential part of helping the first European settlers survive their stay in the New World.
“When the settlers arrived, they were not aware of the harsh winter conditions,” Atkins said. “They didn’t know how to till the soil or how to grow the crops indigenous to the native people.”
In turn, the settlers offered new technology to the Native Americans. They showed them a new way to construct their buildings, a new way to make clothes, and even new materials like metals to make pots and pans.
Eventually, the two groups of people ran into trouble, mainly because they each had a different concept of how to treat land. The settlers claimed ownership and put up fences to keep others out. Native Americans believed the land was to be used for everyone’s benefit.
“The mentality of the native people was that it’s not mine to own, but mine to use and to preserve for succeeding generations,” Atkins said.
The chief showed his obvious love and deep passion for his history during an interview with Scholastic News Online. He seemed sad when talking about how the Native American population has dropped from several hundreds of tribes down to about 38. He also disagrees with the way Native Americans are portrayed in today’s textbooks.
“The textbooks try to keep us in the 17th century,” Atkins said. “What the Jamestown commemoration is going to do is show that we are modern members of society who contribute to all spectrums of life.”
The 400th anniversary is a chance to show that Native Americans pay taxes and raise children like everyone else. They are lawyers and doctors and business owners. Atkins, for example, is not only chief of his tribe—he is also the deputy director of the Department of Human Resources Management for the Commonwealth of Virginia.
“We’re going to let people know that we’re not period museum pieces,” he said. “We’re vital, vibrant participants in America’s non-Anglican culture.”
American Indian Heritage Month
For more Kid Reporter coverage of the annual celebration of America's native heritage, check out the American Indian Heritage Month Special Report.
Lisa Saunders is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.