You don’t meet people like Anne Richardson in Israel every day. In fact, you rarely meet people like Ms. Richardson here at all. This smiling, soft-spoken woman is Chief of the Rappahannock Indian tribe of the U.S. state of Virginia. The fourth generation member of her family to be elected tribal chief, Richardson succeeded her father in 1998, becoming the first female Indian chief in Virginia since a politically astute woman named Cockcoeske became ruler of the Powhatan Confederacy in the mid-1600s.
With a strong commitment to education and a background in business and public administration, Ms. Richardson could not have come along at a better time. The Indians of Virginia occupy a special place in American history and today present the United States government with some uniquely compelling problems.
With the founding of the Jamestown Colony under John Smith in 1607—the first successful English settlement in North America—the nearby Algonquian Indians of what is now Virginia became among the first aboriginal Americans to be known to the white man and affected by his arrival. No American schoolchild grows up without hearing the story of how the beautiful young Pocahontas saved John Smith from death at the hands of her father, Chief Powhatan.
It was with the Indians of Virginia that the white man learned to deal with Native North Americans—how to live off their labor, how to exploit them, how to make and break treaties with them, how to make war with them and, finally, how to drive them off of their land. Decimated by smallpox, massacred during “Indian wars”, and subjected to increasingly severe restrictions and humiliations, the Indians were finally driven out of Virginia during the Indian “removals” of the 1830s, in which most of the Native Americans of the U.S. southeast were herded west to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) in what Indians today remember as the “Trail of Tears”.
The few who stayed behind in Virginia attempted to regroup and rebuild something of their former lives, but found themselves now living at the fringes of American society, impoverished and disempowered. The cruelest cut of all, perhaps, was that the United States Federal Government no longer recognized these beaten survivors as Indians, often categorizing them as the descendents of runaway Black slaves. Beginning in the 1920s, however, the Indians of Virginia have been organizing themselves and fighting for their rights—as both Indians and fully franchised United States citizens.
Since becoming Chief in 1998, Ms. Richardson has launched a series of housing, economic development, and educational programs for her tribe, has forged links with other local tribes to advance the rights of all Indians in Virginia, has fought for legal recognition and financial assistance for Virginia tribes from the U.S. Federal Government, and has worked to preserve the tribes’ native culture and traditions. The recipient of numerous citations and awards, Chief Richardson met with President George W. Bush in 2005 to present him with a “Proclamation of Forgiveness”. She also met with Queen Elizabeth II in 2006, with whom she “renewed covenant” for broken seventheenth century treaties between England and the Indian tribes of Virginia. Visiting Virginia for its 400th anniversary, Queen Elizabeth refused to meet with any state officials until she had performed proper protocol with the Virginia tribal chiefs—her fellow sovereigns—including Chief Anne Richardson.
At the conclusion of Ms. Richardson’s visit to ESRA’s educational project in Michmoret, I had the opportunity to sit with her for a while and ask a few questions about being an Indian chief, about Indians and Jews, and what the two groups might have to teach one another.
First of all, Ms. Richardson, how are you properly addressed?
Call me Chief Anne.
Thank you, Chief Anne. On behalf of ESRA Magazine, I’d like to welcome you to Israel. To what do we owe the honor of your visit?
Well, I’m a Christian Zionist. And the reason that I am is because of the similarities between Native Americans and Jews. We share persecution. We’ve both been hated. We’ve both lost loved ones—we to racism, you to anti-Semitism. And yet, we’re both still here. We’re both survivors.
A lot of my identification with Israel and the Jewish people is also from my childhood. My mother loved the Jews. My mother was an intellect, even though she never had much schooling to speak of. I think she went to the sixth grade. But she would sit and read and go places in her mind. She read me The Diary of Anne Frank, and she sat and cried while she was reading it. She had grown up in the time period of the war and she knew what Hitler had done. And she hated it. She always felt a very strong bond with the Jewish people from that time. I think it came from the fact that we were both threatened, and that we were both run off of our land. She would say to me, “God is going to restore Israel.” And so this was a seed that was planted in me from early on.
You are the first female tribal chief in Virginia in more than 350 years. Were the seeds for that also planted early on?
Definitely. I’m a fourth generation chief. When I was a small kid and my father was chief, I used to crawl under the table during tribal council meetings and listen. I listened to everything—all the meetings, all the stories. So I grew up with all of the issues.
What are some of those issues?
One of the biggest has been recognition. Around 1990, we began an effort among all eight of the Virginia tribes to achieve federal status. This means that the federal government recognizes the treaties that we had with England that predate the establishment of the United States of America. We have two reservations in Virginia today that are recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Those were the first two Indian reservations in the United States, and the whole reservation system was created on the model created right there in Virginia. But we still don’t have federal status. Legislation is moving through the U.S. Congress, but it’s moving very slowly. They patronize us, they make us drain our very limited resources on expensive lawyers and lobbyists, and then they shut us down. It basically comes down to money. If the government recognizes us, they have to allocate money for us—for housing, health care, education, small business development—and they don’t want to do that.
According to the Federal Government, recognition comes when you can demonstrate that you are genealogically, culturally, and/or linguistically related to the historical tribes of Virginia—those that were rounded up and moved west in the 1830s. Can’t you do that?
Of course we can do that, and we have! But it’s not really about proving history. It’s about money. It’s about being able to grease the wheels in Washington, which takes money. And money is something that Indians don’t have.
Listening to you now makes me curious about something you are reported to have done. According to your biography, you went to President George Bush and actually asked the United States to forgive the Native American people for “bloodshed,” “defilement of the land,” and “hatred against the government.” But wouldn’t even a superficial reading of history suggest that Native Americans are far more sinned against than sinning, and that WE should be apologizing to YOU?
Well, you sound like the other tribal leaders in the United States [laughing]. I received a lot of flak for that, but as a Christian I believe in forgiving. I have had many supernatural experiences with God, as a Native American, into the spirit realm. And in one of these experiences with Him I was able to encounter love. This was the most awesome thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. I know that He is all about love. So if we are going to represent Him in the world, than we have an obligation to do as He has instructed us to do.
Is it easy to do that?
Don’t you feel anger?
I have resentment, not anger. I have resentment that we were treated the way we were. I have resentment that we are still being treated the way we are. I fight for my people all the time. I am a warrior—it’s in my DNA. But I have to try to do what God tells me to do, and that is to love.
Do you think that American media, especially movies and TV, are depicting Native Americans better than they did years ago?
On the whole, yes. At least I think that they’re trying. But the movies still aren’t getting us right or telling the true story. I don’t know whether you saw the movie, The New World. Visually it was beautiful. It was a great piece of cinematography. But it was all lies. None of it was true. The movie makers like to tell stories about us, perhaps to make money off of us, but the stories aren’t true. And it’s really too bad, because the real stories of Native Americans are far more dramatic and compelling than what ends up in the movies.
How many Native Americans are there now in North America, and how many were there when John Smith landed in Virginia in 1607?
Well, we can’t answer either question exactly, but we think there are around two million there now. We estimate that there were anywhere from 11 to 14 million Native Americans in North America in 1607. As far as Virginia is concerned, there are around 6,000 Indians today. My tribe, the Rappahannock, today has 300 people.
Are you married?
No, I was married a long time ago and had one daughter, who is now 36 years old. I have four grandchildren. But I’ve been divorced for 25 years. I’m married to my work, to my people. It’s a 24 hour a day thing, particularly now, with the economic situation being what it is. Between dealing with state officials, trying to raise funds, getting programs started and planning new projects, I’ve had to run here to make sure this one can buy groceries, run there to help that one pay his electric bill, bring boxes of food to this family, clothes to that one. It’s round-the-clock.
So it sounds like being an Indian Chief today is about being a leader, warrior, diplomat, teacher, social worker, administrator…
… And a lot more than that. You’ve not only described being a chief but also being a woman.
Which leads me to the question of succession. Are you grooming your daughter to be the next chief?
Well, my daughter helps me around the office, but she does this reluctantly. She’s actually in charge there now, in my absence. So far, she really hasn’t shown any great interest in being chief someday. She may not know it yet, but when the time comes, she WILL BE chief.
In the meantime, what are your long-term goals as chief of the Rappahannock and leader of the Native Americans of Virginia?
The first thing is recognition by the federal government. This is a personal pledge. Then, I want to rebuild my nation. I want to improve education for our young people as a means of creating better opportunities for all our people. I want to restore our ancient culture. And I want to gather our people from all of the places they have been scattered and bring them home.
That sounds a lot like the mission of the State of Israel. Have you a message of any kind for the government of Israel?
I met with Minister Uzi Landau and presented him with what Native Americans consider a protocol gift, to honor him, honor his people, and to show our solidarity, love and support for your country. We also ask the government not to give up an inch of your land for peace, because we have already done that and we know that it doesn’t work. We see you on the news being persecuted because you don’t want to hand over your land. And my people agree. We watch and say, “DON’T DO IT! IT DOESN’T WORK!”
Is that, basically, the thing your people have to teach us?
I don’t know if that’s all there is, but if it were, it would certainly be enough, wouldn’t it?
On 7 October 2009, Chief Anne Richardson was the honored guest of ESRA, when she took time out from a personal mission of solidarity with Israel and the Jewish people to visit one of ESRA’s projects of excellence. Recognizing that the cycle of poverty among American Indians begins with poor schools and substandard education, Ms. Richardson has devoted most of her energy toward developing educational projects among Indian tribal youth to improve their chances for success. She was thus keenly interested in seeing ESRA’s educational project for gifted Ethiopian children at Ruppin College in Michmoret when this unique program was brought to her attention by Maureen Anstey, a television make-up artist for the Fox News Network.
Arriving in Michmoret in full tribal costume, Chief Richardson remarked that the purpose of her visit was to get some ideas from ESRA for future educational projects on behalf of Native American youth in Virginia. After a few cogent welcoming remarks from ESRA chairperson, Debby Lieberman, and director, Linda Olmert, project coordinator, Meira Applebaum, acquainted Ms. Richardson with the program in which gifted Ethiopian boys and girls from some of the most impoverished neighborhoods of Netanya are brought to Ruppin College to learn and conduct research projects in marine biology.
As Chief Richardson toured the campus and inspected the facilities, Applebaum noted that a very prestigious private high school was so impressed with one of the student’s research projects that it admitted the boy to the school with a full scholarship. Applebaum also noted that this project, for gifted Ethiopian seventh and eighth grade students in Michmoret, has a counterpart program of excellence for gifted Ethiopian children in the fifth and sixth grades. These children are brought from their poverty-stricken neighborhoods in Yavne to the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, where they learn physics, chemistry and computers. Ms. Richardson observed the students’ projects in marine biology, chatted with students and teachers, and expressed her admiration for the project by proposing future joint educational programs between ESRA and the Rappahannock Tribal Council.
Post a Comment
- life's journey – exploring relationships, resolving conflicts. a review
- schneider children's medical center not just any hospital
- children without shadows
- stop driving before it is too late
- encountering israel
- the strawberry woman
- for the love of god and virgins - a review
- fighting cancer with hyperthermia
- ex-volunteers-kibbutz movement wants to hear from you
- watt lights my light