DAHLGREN, Va. – The day nationally celebrated as the first Thanksgiving marks the historic occasion when the English colonists and the Wampanoag North American Indians joined for a harvest feast in 1621.
The Wampanoag were a confederacy of tribes of the Northeast Woodland Native American cultural group who spoke in Algonquian.
Minnie Lightner of the Patawomeck Indian Tribe of Virginia based in Stafford County spoke in Algonquian when she welcomed the audience at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) sponsored National American Indian Heritage Month Observance, Nov. 21.
“I just said to you in our Native language, which is Algonquin, ‘Good morning my friends. My name is Minnie Lightner. What is your name? How are you today?” she said to about 70 people at the base theater.
Dressed in regalia, she captured the audience’s attention as she unfolded the history of her ancestors.
The Patawomeck Tribe’s presence dates back to 1260-1300 A.D. Today, the tribe is one of Virginia’s 11 recognized Native American tribes and comprised of about 2,400 members. Sixty to 70 percent or 1,440 to 1,680 of the tribal members live in the White Oak area.
The locations of only two of their villages are known. The main village of Patawomeck is located at Marlborough Point in Stafford, Va.
“The word Patawomeck means ‘a place of trade’ so that was the new location where we did most of our trading from,” Lightner said.
Another village is located at the end of Aquia Creek Road, also in Stafford. About six years ago, the property owner donated over more than 3,000 artifacts to the tribe.
“We do know the name of the village in King George – Passapatanzy – but we don’t know the exact location,” Lightner said.
Although the tribe yearns to know more about its homesteads, it educates the community through living history villages every year – emulating the heritage month observance theme: Honoring our Nations: Building Strength Through Understanding.
NSWCDD Commanding Officer Capt. Casey Plew encouraged the audience to ponder these words.
“We keep this theme in mind to encourage you to reflect today on the rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories of American Indians and Alaskan natives – the first people of the United States,” he said.