Telling Their Story: The Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia

Encyclopedia Virginia is pleased to present our new entry about the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia, the first in a series of new entries about the history and culture of the eleven officially recognized Virginia Indian tribes—past and present.

EV knew we needed to do a better job of representing the history and culture of Virginia’s tribal communities,” said Caitlin Newman, EV‘s special projects editor, who is overseeing the effort. “This was confirmed in 2020 when we worked with Kenah Consulting to survey tribal members about our site. The majority of the people who responded said they didn’t feel adequately represented by our entries. And why would they? Our entries typically mentioned Virginia Indians in the context of the precolonial era, if they mentioned them at all. This is misleading and contributes to the mistaken impression that Indigenous people no longer exist in Virginia. The reality is that Virginia is home to a vibrant, diverse, and modern group of tribal communities. EV should reflect that.” 

We also knew that we needed a different editorial process to ensure that those who know Virginia Indian history and culture best—the tribes themselves—participate in the development of new entries. “This differs from our typical practice in which the EV editor assigns an entry to one or two subject-matter experts,” explains Newman.

“The Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia embraced a community-driven process that reflects the tribal value of collaboration. A small group of tribal members, including Chief Lynette Allston, gathered virtually to discuss their history and culture and come to a consensus about what an entry about the tribe would look like. They created an outline for the entry and decided who should write it,” Newman said.

The result was that the entry about the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia was collaboratively written by four tribal citizens: Lynette Allston, Rufus Kelly III, Beth Roach, and A. L. Williams. For Rufus Kelly, one of the authors of the entry, the chance to participate in telling the tribe’s story was irresistible.

“I’m very hawkish about making sure that the information that is out there about Nottoway people is accurate. It really bothers me when I see things that are misleading, or incorrect or incomplete,” said Kelly in an interview that accompanies the new entry.

“I’ve tried to really understand who we are as a people and understand our history and be able to share that with others. I think that’s important.,” he said. “What made it compelling to me was that EV was reaching out to Nottoway people and asking us to share our story and our words from our perspective. That is wonderful, and I don’t think it happens enough.”

“The collaborative Nottoway group considered every aspect of an EV entry, from the text itself to the primary documents and media that would accompany it,” notes Newman. One element of the new entry that emerged from this discussion was Beth Roach’s virtual guided tour of the Nottoway River, where she speaks powerfully about the tribe’s current and historic relationship to the Nottoway River and the environment.

EntryPoint > Telling Their Story: The Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia

To learn more about the history and culture of the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia and its connection to the Nottoway River, join EV editor Patti Miller and Nottoway tribal citizens Rufus Kelly and Beth Roach on Wednesday, December 7, from noon to 1 p.m. for EV’s EntryPoint. REGISTER HERE


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