Author: Ashley Spivey

Ashley Spivey, Ph.D., is an historical anthropologist and member of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe who serves as the Executive Director of Kenah Consulting, an anthropological and cultural heritage management firm that works in service to support Tribal sovereignty and the institutions that tell the histories of Virginia's Indigenous peoples.

The Legal Status and Classification of Virginia Indians

Indigenous communities in Virginia have experienced several shifts in their legal status over the past four centuries. From their initial status as tributaries during the colonial period, Virginia tribes saw a reduction of their tribal lands and the corresponding erosion of their legal rights throughout the seventeenth and eighteen centuries. By the late eighteenth century, only four Virginia tribes retained treaty lands and the Commonwealth of Virginia had abandoned many of its treaty obligations. Virginia tribes, however, continued to function as autonomous communities, retaining separate institutions that allowed for the continued expression of Indigeneity through cultural, social, and economic practices. These institutions included governing systems, church congregations, and schools that supported Virginia tribes’ successful efforts in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries to advocate for recognition at the local, state, and federal levels.




The Virginia History and Textbook Commission

In response to the rising civil rights movement and the challenge to white supremacy, the Senate of Virginia in 1950 created the Virginia History and Textbook Commission to create history texts that sought to impose the Lost Cause version of slavery, the American Civil War (1861–1865), and Reconstruction on Virginia students. Virginia Indians found much of their history erased or ignored in the textbooks, which gave the impression that most Native Americans had been killed or pushed out of Virginia. Although critics charged the books were an attempt by segregationists to promote the history that supported their racial ideas, the fourth-grade book entered public schools in the autumn of 1956 and textbooks for seventh grade and high school were introduced the following year. The Virginia National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) opposed the textbooks, and the Virginia Teachers Association (VTA), a Black educators organization, successfully promoted an accurate telling of Black history that led to the adoption of Black history courses throughout the commonwealth beginning in the 1960s. By 1965, educators were widely complaining that the textbooks amounted to propaganda. Nonetheless, in 1966 the State Board of Education extended the use of the textbooks for another six years. A changing political climate, including the surge in Black voting following passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the overthrow of the Byrd political machine in 1970, created new impetus to remove the textbooks from schools. In 1972, the Board of Education voted unanimously to drop the books as official history texts. However, the textbooks remained in use in some schools until the late 1970s.