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Feature: Pamunkey Indian Museum & Cultural Center

Updated: Feb 5

By Shaleigh Howells, Museum Director

Pamunkey Indian Museum & Cultural Center


Surrounded by the Pamunkey River on what is a small portion of the ancestral homelands of the Pamunkey people sits the Pamunkey Indian Museum & Cultural Center. The museum is part of the greater community on the Pamunkey Indian Reservation, which was established in 1646. The Reservation is perhaps the oldest inhabited Indian reservation in North America, totaling approximately 1,600 acres and adjacent to King William County. The Pamunkey Tribe is a Federally Recognized Tribe and a Sovereign Nation. When visiting the museum, you are not just on an Indian Reservation, you are truly standing in the power of a state separate from that of the Commonwealth of Virginia.


The museum echoes the pride of the Pamunkey people and their sovereignty. The recently installed “Treaty Room” reflects the long history of the Pamunkey Tribe and its relations with usurpers of Native power, including the Frontlet from the Treaty of 1677 (also known as the Treaty of Middle Plantation) that the mighty weroansqua (female ruler) Cockacoesk signed. Within the main exhibition space, the museum continues to focus on the history of the Pamunkey and their way of life from 12,000 years ago through to the present. The museum displays combine replicas with original Native American artifacts donated by Tribal Citizens from their personal and familial collections. The narrative rings clear, we have always been here and we are still here.


Pottery Display in the Main Exhibition


To ensure that the collection endures and that the voice of modern Pamunkey Tribal Citizens continues to be heard, the museum hired on a Museum Director in the Summer of 2021. The focus of Shaleigh Howell’s work is centered on collections stewardship and community engagement. Working as the Tribe’s Cultural Resource Director and Museum Director she strives to preserve the museum’s world class collection while also creating community programming, fostering Tribal artisan opportunities and facilitating educational outreach. With a background in museum collections management and registration, her focus moving into 2022 is on the preservation and documentation of the museum collection.


While there will not be any major exhibition changes in the next year or so, the museum will undergo a minor facelift. The museum exhibition spaces will be thoroughly cleaned and updated with paint and repairs made where needed. Additionally, a rework of the museum gift shop will take place and the implementation of new ADA accommodations to allow for greater visitor access. The Tribe is also working on historic preservation initiatives on the Reservation creating the potential to integrate more historical buildings into public programming options in the future. We hope that you visit us before and after our work begins.


Here are a few tips to make your visit the most enjoyable experience. The museum hosts a gift shop with items handcrafted by Pamunkey Tribal Citizens. Inventory is updated regularly with items corresponding to varying price points to allow all visitors a chance to shop. Be advised that the museum is located in a rural setting. Be sure to bring water and plenty of car snacks. Also, check your gas tank! Make sure you have enough gas for your return trip – it’s a long road out to be thinking you might not make it!


We look forward to your visit and providing a warm wingapo (welcome)! Our museum website offers additional visitor information at https://pamunkey.org/museum-cultural-center and all cancellations or changes to operating hours are shared via our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/PamunkeyIndianMuseumAndCulturalCenter/.


Recent publications:

· https://www.dailypress.com/tidewater-review/va-tr-pamunkey-museum-0716-20210726-xzqcstm3azbn7gkjhjycxyqtby-story.html

· https://www.dailypress.com/virginiagazette/va-vg-pamunkey-artisan-0823-20210903-qzhqpcwmczfajapc3efhuyph6m-story.html

· https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2019/08/03/powhatan-his-people-american-indians-that-jamestowns-settlers-shoved-aside/

· https://www.historyisfun.org/blog/cockacoeske-shines-in-tenacity/

· https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/ethan-brown.htm

· https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/debra-martin.htm

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