Richmond Times-Dispatch

Reader grateful for link to his Indigenous roots

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EDITOR, TIMES-DISPATCH:

Walter Plecker, an American physician, was the first registrar of Virginia’s Bureau of Vital Statistics, serving from 1912 to 1946. As a leader of the Anglo-Saxon Clubs of America, a white supremacis­t organizati­on founded in Richmond, he was a staunch promoter of eugenics. He commission­ed Virginia’s “Act to Preserve Integrity” (1924-67), which separated Virginia’s citizens into two simplified racial categories: white and colored.

Plecker’s polices were used as deceptive scientific evidence to target Blacks, poor whites and anyone his eugenicist­s’ colleagues considered feeblemind­ed. His policy also emphasized that Virginia Indians were “mixed-blooded negroes,” and pressured state agencies into reclassify­ing Indians as “colored.”

While I was researchin­g my family tree, using informatio­n from the Virginia Department of Health’s Office of Vital Records, I found the marriage license register of my greatgrand­parents being marked as “colored.” After further review of those records, I found that my family descended from the Patawomeck Indian Tribe of Stafford County. After discoverin­g that lineage, I no longer felt invisible, as my tribal relationsh­ips were being formed at powwows— social meetings held by many Indigenous communitie­s to gather and dance, sing, socialize and honor their cultures. The powwow is where I learned the spirit of honoring our soldiers (warriors).

This year, in a move toward abolishing Plecker’s era, Gov. Ralph Northam recognized

Oct. 12 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Virginia.

While I no longer might dance or attend native cultural events, I still proudly carry my Patawomeck tribal card — not only for my ancestral relatives who had to hide their culture from others, but also as the warrior who is brave enough to shed tears for the lost ones, and to keep repeating to all who will not listen: The Virginia Indigenous people still are here. (We never actually left.)

RICK KNIGHT.

HENRICO.

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