Native American Community Research Proposal

Williamsburg: A Space for Native American Community

The focus of The Williamsburg Documentary Project this semester is the use and reuse of place and space in and around Williamsburg. I hope to conduct a research project on the experience of the Williamsburg Native American community with insight and commentary through a spatial, locational, and geographic lens.

First, I want to know what different tribes or native nations, if any, are represented in Williamsburg. If there are members of these communities, I hope to look at if a community among the Native Americans exists despite varying tribes or nations. How does this community function as a whole and how members of different tribes interact with one another?  If a community among Williamsburg Native Americans does not exist I hope to explore reasons why. I also hope to explore how the Native American community functions within the larger Williamsburg area spatially, socially, and economically: both as individuals and as a group.

The following are some of the questions I hope to ask in my pursuit of primary information to serve as the most substantial component of my project. What type of spaces do Williamsburg Native Americans occupy? For example: residential, commercial, educational, or government space where members of the Native American community frequent, work, live, or own space. How do public and private spaces represent and/or characterize the Williamsburg Native American community and how do these spaces serve non-Native American members of the community? What characterizes the relationship between Williamsburg Native Americans and the City of Williamsburg? What characterizes the relationship between the spaces listed above and networks of people outside the Native American community?

After extensive research, there seems to be little to no work on the Native American community in Williamsburg since a report published in 1951 by in the Archeological Society of Virginia Quarterly Bulletin. Although this article is very dated, I hope to pull ideas and perspectives on Native Americans in the Williamsburg area from the 1950s and possibly compare and analyze them in next to the accounts I hope to collect from members of the community today. This will be a brief but very interesting element of my final paper.

The greater field of study on Native Americans living off the reservation is highly concentrated in medical and psychological journals that are primarily concerned with drug use, alcohol abuse and addiction, and effects or limitations to assimilation off the reservation. Much of this information includes the impact of racial stigmas, battles with addiction, and struggles with a “dual-identity,” one that confronts the everyday challenges to living as a Native American outside the reservation. I hope to compare these findings with those I uncover in the Williamsburg Native American community. Are these stigmas, challenges, and battles represented as present struggles or concerns for Williamsburg Native Americans? Why or Why not?

Another essential component of Native American identity and culture is the choice every Native American has to accept or deny his or her tribal or national identity as a native person. There are certain benefits and drawbacks of accepting tribal identity as well as denying it. I will discuss what guidelines each tribe I encounter and where federal government regulations stand on this issue to illuminate the ease or difficulty with which an individual can claim the benefits of their Native American identity. There are many instances of dissonance among siblings and families for a variety of reasons regarding taking on native identity thus if opportunity or time permits, exploring the reasons and experiences of accepting or denying American Indian heritage would be enlightening. Because of the Pamunkey reservation close-by, the Williamsburg area may indeed house a community of people choosing to distance themselves from tribal identity.

The primary source of information for my research will come from interviews with members of the Williamsburg community who either identify as Native American or who closely associate with members of the Williamsburg Native American community. These interviews will be conducted with myself and the interviewer assisted by a peer who will index the progression of the interview. I cannot limit my preferences for potential interviewees to a certain gender or age group because the most recent census report shows that the Native American community stands at around 1.2% of the Williamsburg population. I would like to speak with more than one person who is of age to speak knowledgeably with me about their observations and experiences among the community.

At anytime during the process of the project I guarantee every individual I ask to participate the ability to rescind his or her statements and interviews. If individuals wish to remain anonymous, pseudonyms will be noted and used in place of real names in every aspect of the published report. This will be confirmed in both verbal and written agreements before the interview. I also hope to present a copy of my report, electronic or manuscript, to each person who assisted with research, who gave oral interviews, and who aided me with valuable information or essential resources. Although I am collecting this information and writing a report on my findings, there is much more than just the work of one person that goes into a research project.

One of the greatest challenges I will encounter resides in collecting oral histories from Native American people in Williamsburg. I need to find people who are willing to speak with me and share their stories, opinions, and experiences. As I mentioned above, I am uncertain I will be able to identify and thus explore a Native American community in Williamsburg due to the small proportion of the population that they hold. Research provides little information and few contacts. I hope these few contacts will be fruitful resources to get in touch with people who could help me get into contact with individuals willing to share with a William and Mary undergraduate student.

Samuel R. Cook discusses in his article, Anthropological Advocacy in Historical Perspective: The Case of Anthropologists and Virginia Indians, the history of anthropological advocacy for Virginia Indian groups throughout the state and explains causes and effects of this political and social advocacy. I examine this paper to connect the greater effects of my own research in ethnography to the political and social benefits anthropological advocacy can bring to minority or ethnic group within a dominant white agenda. The American Indian Initiative within the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has sought to incorporate a Native American presence in the living museum located in Colonial Williamsburg since 2004. I am more concerned with the presence of Native Americans in Williamsburg today rather than reenactments of Virginia Indians of the past. Although the living museum provides ample benefit to understanding the past, I wish to uncover the present. I believe that the condition of marginalized peoples from the past in the present is a ____ way to analyze and therefore comprehend the insistent presence of racial inequality within society today. By uncovering the conditions of the present in light of history, we are able to better understand how racial systems develop and persist. If we can understand this, these systems will be easier to prevent and dissolve in the future. Does identifying as a Native American change what it means to be from Williamsburg? Does living in Williamsburg change what it means to be a Native American?

I hope to present my final report along with all primary sources I collected including the audio recordings of interviews to William and Mary with a deed of gift.


Allen. Williamsburg Documentary Project, “Native American Representations at Colonial Williamsburg.” Accessed February 27, 2014.

Blume, G. W. J. “Present-day Indians of Tidewater, Virginia.” Quarterly Bulletin, Archeological Society Of Virginia 6, no. 2 (1951): 1-11. Anthropology Plus, EBSCOhost (accessed February 27, 2014).

Cook, Samuel R. “Anthropological advocacy in historical perspective: The case of anthropologists and Virginia Indians.” Human organization 62, no. 2 (2003): 193-201.

Garrett, Michael Tlanusta, and Eugene F. Pichette. “Red as an apple: Native American acculturation and counseling with or without reservation.” Journal of Counseling & Development 78, no. 1 (2000): 3-13.

Nagel, Joane. “American Indian ethnic renewal: Politics and the resurgence of identity.” American Sociological Review (1995): 947-965.

Phinney, Jean S. “When we talk about American ethnic groups, what do we mean?.” American Psychologist 51, no. 9 (1996): 918.

Thornton, Russell. “Tribal membership requirements and the demography of ‘old’and ‘new’Native Americans.” Population Research and Policy Review 16, no. 1-2 (1997): 33-42.

Waugaman, Sandra F., and Danielle Moretti-Langholtz. We’re still here: contemporary Virginia Indians tell their stories. Palari Pub, 2000.



The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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