In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native peoples today.
Please introduce yourself with your name and title. Can you give us your Native name?
Kevin Brown, chief of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe. The Onondagas call me Shunkawaka.
What responsibilities do you have in your community?
General administration, chairing meetings and working with committees, and genealogical and historic research.
How did your life experience prepare you to lead?
I have spent a lot of time on other reservations.
Who inspired you as a mentor?
My grandfather and great uncles, also Leon Shenandoah, [the late head of the Iroquois Confederacy and an advocate for Indigenous Peoples' rights worldwide]; Tom Porter, [the Mohawk elder and cultural and spiritual leader]; and Jimmy Little Turtle, [the son of Viola White Water (Shawnee), who has continued her work promoting Indian culture and education].
Are you a descendant of a historical leader? If so, who?
Coekoquiske, [a 17th-century leader who was referred to at that time as] the “Queen of Pamunkey.”
Where is your community located?
The Pamunkey Indian Reservation is adjacent to King William County, Virginia.
Where are the Pamunkey people originally from?
We’ve always been here.
What is a significant point in history from your tribe that you would like to share?
We captured John Smith and took him before Powhatan.
Approximately how many members are in your tribe?
We have 208 tribal members, 40 of whom are reservation residents.
What are the criteria to become a member of your tribe?
You must be a direct descendant from one of our base of 40 tribal-roll members living on the reservation in 1900 and 1910, and you must have kept a social connection with the reservation.
Is your language still spoken on your homelands?
We lost our fluency, but are currently having language classes on the reservation.
What economic enterprises does the Pamunkey Tribe own?
Duck hunting and the rental of duck blinds are our main sources of income.
What attractions are available for visitors on your land?
What annual events does the tribe sponsor?
We sponsor the annual Pamunkey Fish Hatchery Fish Fry [in the spring, at the end of the shad season].
To read the full interview Kevin Brown, chief of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe. visit the NMAI series here.