A very long time ago the last land of the Chowanoke Indians was taken and sold off, leaving tribal descendants without a communal land base for many generations. Today, for the first time in two hundred years, tribal members have repurchased a tract of the original reservation!
Currently, renovations of this new tract of land is underway! Land clearing, drum arbor construction, parking lots and roads, etc., are currently being built in the initial phase of construction. In the future, an on-site museum, historic village, Pow Wow grounds, trails, camping and tribal employment opportunities will take place. Please take this opportunity to donate to this historic effort!
Fundraiser Goal: 3000 dollars
Momentum continues to build as a new website was recently launched by the Chowanoke Indian Nation. That's right, the CHOWANOKE Indian Nation. Until recently, this group has been known as the Meherrin-Chowanoke due to a great many members having multi-tribal ancestry from both the Meherrin and Chowanoke, as well as other native groups. Recently, however, it was felt that since the core of the modern tribe were Chowanoke descendants and that the historic Chowanoke had the best documentation and connection to the modern group, a full Chowanoke identification was preferred. Now, the Chowanoke Nation is continuing to move forward with legislation for recognition, and development of their land. To that end the following website was created: http://www.chowanokereservationfund.com/home.html.
This is, in other words, the first time in 193 years that the Chowanoke people have had a communal land base! And as they have stated on the website, this is an important time for "all Chowanoke descendants"!
In a recent development, several Meherrin-Chowanoke tribal members have purchased 150 acres of land originally belonging to the Chowanoke Reservation that ran along Bennett's Creek from 1677 - 1790. According to the tribal website the lands were purchased to be "developed and used to educate and promote cultural awareness of it's original peoples. It will also provide an area where tribal members can gather for numerous recreational, and cultural purposes. And in time, provide employment for our tribal members." It is exciting to think that these lands are once again in the hands of those it most rightfully belongs, and can be used as a resource by the tribe for generations to come. More information, including photographs, Pow Wow info and other upcoming events on the tribal website!
Doug Patterson is a member of the tribal council of the Meherrin-Chowanoke Nation. I have been in frequent contact with him the past several years and recently had the opportunity to conduct an interview. Hopefully, this will clear the air and give information that will help end much of the confusion regarding the tribe.
Lars: I’m here with tribal councilman of the Meherrin-Chowanoke Nation, Doug Patterson. How are you today, Doug?
Doug: I’m doing fine, how are you?
Lars: I’m doing great. I’m going to ask a series of questions here, to deal with the Meherrin-Chowanoke Nation, where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going. Um, so let’s start by going way back. What historical Indian
nation or nations are the Meherrin-Chowanoke descendants of?
Doug: Primarily, the Meherrin and Chowanoke. Currently most of our members are of Chowanoke descent.
Lars: Ok, so mainly Chowanoke. I had heard, according to some older accounts, that the Meherrin and Chowanokes seem to have faded out of existence or moved away, and that they’re not any longer active tribal entities. How would you respond to that?
Doug: I guess that would depend on what your definition of what an Indian nation fading away is.
Doug: If you were to say that there are no descendants that would be false. Many people seem to think that if a tribe did not have a reservation, then they are not Indians. Historically, whenever groups sold, or somehow, lost the last of their lands, they were considered extinct, even though the people were still there. An example of that is the Nottoway Tribe. The “supposed” last Nottoway man [William Lamb], supposedly died around 1962, but actually, he was not the last of the Nottoways. He had family, relatives, cousins, etc. A book, or an article saying a group is extinct, is ridiculous. As long as people have children, and descendants, the tribes exist, They don’t disappear. Just because you don’t have a land base doesn’t mean you don’t exist as Indians. The same with the Meherrin and Chowanoke. Did they lose their land they had? Yes, they did. Did they disappear? No. But in the eyes of the non-Indian population they were
considered to be extinct as a nation because they had no reservation.
Most Indian groups did not choose to lose their lands. That wasn’t the case. Especially with many eastern groups. The land was taken.
And when the land was gone they no longer considered them Indians.
To obtain these lands, the settlers had to operate under the guise that there were no more Indians there. This was the case with both the Meherrin and the Chowanoke.
Lars: It sounds like there was a lot of pressure on these Indian communities. How was it that you were able to retain your identity under these pressures?
Doug: Well, when they lost their lands, they became a people unto themselves. People, who nonetheless remained a cohesive political unit. They had our own stores, their own businesses, their own churches and their own schools. And so regardless of what they were called, they were always considered something different than their surrounding populations. They were viewed as a different type of people. They married within
themselves, and these practices remain consistent to this day. And it has been that way from the time that they lost their lands, to the present.
Lars: Okay, so now let’s fast forward to the twentieth century. A lot has happened legally and socially that has allowed for the recognition of Indian communities that has previously had to operate under the radar. Could you describe the process of reorganization that the Meherrin people underwent?
Doug: I think, prior to recognition, the Indians in and around Hertford County were initially organized by Wayne Brown. From what I understand he put an ad in the local paper to that affect. Does that answer the question?
[Lars: A previous conversation I had with Wayne Brown confirms this]
Lars: It does. Now at this time you were called simply the Meherrin Indian Tribe, is that right?
Lars: Why is it that you changed the name since then, and how was it done?
Doug: Okay. When the group was recognized, if you read the legislation, it was for all the Indians in the surrounding areas. A lot of people have different opinions about that. But for whatever reason, it didn’t differentiate between any type of Indian, at all.
Doug: So, if you are Chowanoke or Meherrin, etc., you were included. I’m not sure what the original intent was, but that’s how it was written. What I wanted to do in this interview is not to speculate, so I will stick with making statements that can be verified by documents.
Lars: Okay. Alright, so I assume that after time went by as the Meherrin Indian Tribe and um, at some point some members of the Meherrin found out they had Chowanoke roots is that the reason for the initial name change?
Doug: No, that’s not true at all. The Chowanoke descendants always knew they were Chowanoke.
Lars: Oh, really?
Doug: Yes. They always knew that. It wasn’t something that just started or anything like that. I have no emotional ties, when looking at research. I try to remain objective to what the truth is, and what is actual and provable. If something that you believed is shown to be different that what you originally thought, you have to be disciplined enough to accept it. You go where your research goes. Regardless of what you wish to believe. I mean you’ll have a lot of people who will say hey, my Grandmother was an Indian. And most likely they’ll say that she was Cherokee or Blackfoot. And they believe that. They believe that because that’s what they’ve been told by their parents, grandparents, but in most instances, it won't be true. But, usually there is an underlying truth. They may be of Indian descent, but simply got the name of the tribe wrong.
Lars: I can relate to that.
Doug: What’s that?
Lars: I said I can certainly relate to that, it’s the same kind of story that was happening in my family.
Doug: Right. It’s not that they’re not Indian, because usually, there’s always an underlying truth, to the story. But you have to follow it. You can’t develop an emotional tie to a set idea.
Lars: And is that because you feel it’s a more accurate reflection of the group history?
Doug: Many times, when you begin in one direction, it’s very hard emotionally to let it go. The thing about it is, like the process of Federal recognition. A government agency has no emotional ties to you, or any group. So they are look at what you send, and look for flaws in your work. There’s probably four hundred plus people with letters of intent. The most important thing is that you have one chance, to go through the recognition process. If you mess up, you don’t get another shot. I doesn’t work that way. If you submit a petition, it really needs to be sufficient. This is an area that’s really important to the Meherrin-Chowanoke. It’s so important, that the group was willing to sacrifice many things to reach for higher goals. As Indian people, one of the most important things you can give to your children, your grandchildren, is Federal recognition. To be able to function in a nation to nation relationship. As a political entity. This is very important. I don’t know if I got off track.
Lars: No it’s ok. So now, with several different blogs and websites reporting on the Meherrin-Chowanoke, it seems there are two different groups. Was this name change the sole reason for the split or were there other factors involved?
Doug: Some may say so, but there were other factors as well. Are you in a position to check the BIA website on your computer right now?
Lars: Yeah, I am, but I can’t navigate away while the recorder is on.
Doug: Ok, that’s fine. Later, if you were to go to the Bureau of Indian Affairs website, and search for Meherrin-Chowanoke or Meherrin Tribe, what you will see, are two letters of Intent and one petition. You will see that currently one group, The Meherrin-Chowanoke are represented this way, naming Thomas Lewis, contact person, and Dr.Aaron Winston chair. You will also see, a letter of intent to petition, dated August 2, 1990. In addition you will see, Meherrin Indian Tribe. With a letter of intent to petition, dated June 27, 1995. I would think that any reasonable person would come to a conclusion that this would possibly have been an issue for any group. And this happened in the early 1990’s. Another point that I want to clarify is that many current blogs and websites provide incorrect information. Things that are not true. The Meherrin-Chowanoke name. Now this is very important because I’ve read blogs that state that Chief Thomas Lewis or other individuals changed the name of the tribe, without the consent of the tribe. I can say this right now. That is absolutely false. And it should not be continued to be spread like that. It was not individually or unilaterally done. The name was changed in a tribal vote. That is very important misconception, and something that needs to be cleared up. It was a tribal vote that changed the name. It was not one person or two people, or three people, it was a vote, among tribal members, that changed it.
Lars: Understood. Okay, so, it seems to me that there has been a lot of strife between the two groups. I understand there was a drawn-out lawsuit and a recent court order issued by a Judge Trawick. Could you elaborate on the legal proceedings of the lawsuit and what does all this means?
Doug: I’ve seen a lot of blogs that state that a judgment was made in the litigation. That also is not true. There was no decision made by the Judge. He made no ruling. That is the truth. He allowed the groups to compose a consent order. And in that order a vote was included.
Lars: So what went on with that vote?
Doug: A vote was held. And from what I understand, those that ran for office did so unopposed.
Lars: And this was a vote on who was the leaders of the tribe?
Lars: Okay. Okay, So at this point you are operating totally separately from the Meherrin Nation, right?
Doug: The Meherrin-Chowanoke are the Meherrin-Chowanoke.
Lars: Gotcha. And at this point I understand that there is legislation in the works to recognize the Meherrin-Chowanoke Nation by the state of North Carolina. How is that progressing?
Doug: I don’t know if you’ve been watching the news, but the legislators are pretty tied up down there with some national issues. It’s progressing, and the group is looking forward to next session.
Lars: Okay, sounds good, so it looks like it will get delayed to the next session?
Lars: Well we all look forward to that.
Doug: You know, what the Meherrin-Chowanoke want, is simply to go their way. The governing body wants to concentrate on the membership. The Meherrin-Chowanoke are also focusing on remaining a cohesive unit and gaining federal recognition.
Lars: Is the way the Meherrin-Chowanoke are attempting to be recognized different from the way other North Carolina Indian Communities have been recognized?
Doug: In North Carolina, the Commission of Indian Affairs has existed for roughly 42 years without recognizing anyone. And so from the seventies, until 1986 the first tribe recognized were the Meherrin. There was no petitioning process for any of the other grandfathered-in groups.
Later the Occaneechi Band of Saponi engaged in the recognition process. They were denied recognition, and engaged in litigation. After which a Judged ruled that they should have been recognized based on their petition, and did so. The became recognized in 2002. Legislation, or other avenues of recognition should always be an option for groups depending on their individual and specific circumstances. I would seriously caution any
unrecognized group against opposing legislation, as it might be their only avenue to be recognized. In addition, it would be very disingenuous for one group to seek recognition, state, or federally, through legislation, and at the same time, ask another group to follow a petitioning process.
Lars: It sounds like you have your plate pretty full. Other than getting federal recognition and concentrating on tribal members, are there any other future goals of the Meherrin-Chowanoke Nation that you would like to elaborate about?
Doug: We are engaging a few federally recognized groups on future projects but will make future announcements as time goes on.
Doug: You know, The thought of Indian people engaged in hostility against each other is a very disturbing thing. Federal tribes holding down State tribes and state tribes holding down un-recognized tribes is a very unhealthy way for Indian people to exist. At some point, all these groups are going to need each other. Non-natives are watching this truly
Lars: Yeah, That’s something, I mean I’m an outsider myself and that’s something I’ve observed.
Lars: Like the Tuscaroras, who have broken apart into many splinter groups, or the Pee Dees in South Carolina, and many others as well, so, it’s um, I’m with you, I know what you’re saying. Um, I don’t know if you have anything more you’d like to say but I’m all out of questions.
Doug: Yes. The Meherrin-Chowanoke Powwow is coming up, and it’s in October.
Lars: And where’s that taking place?
Doug: In Ahoskie, North Carolina at the Ahoskie Recreation Complex.
Lars: And what’s the date?
Doug: October 25th through the 27th. Also, for your website, and more specifically for people of Chowanoke descent, I want to encourage all descendants, to form a relationship with the Meherrin-Chowanoke, and to come out and engage with our group.
Lars: Okay, what about, say families who aren’t immediately in your community or whose ancestors moved away in generations past?
Doug: Right, We want to encourage participation, and seek eligible applicants to become a functioning part of our group. I you want to encourage you to apply. If you seek to become a tribal member, we want you to be a functioning one. It’s about family. So, it’s not about a having a card. That’s very important.
Lars: Okay, well thank you very much and I appreciate you taking the time with this interview.
Doug: No problem.
[After the interview, Doug had one more point he wanted to make concerning the historical tribal names in North Carolina and comparison with modern names.]
Doug: I’ve seen a lot of blogs out there that say we never existed. You’ll see a lot of that. The Meherrin were a historical tribe and the Chowanoke were a historical tribe. How could anyone think that if one is Algonquin and the other Iroquoian that they did not co-marry, co-mingle, co-exist? If they married non-natives why would it seem impossible for them not to marry other Indians? The Chowanoke were thrown together with Iroquoian groups at different points in history, like the Tuscarora. The Nansemond, another Algonquian tribe were removed into the Nottoway, an Iroquoian tribe.
The fact that they were of two different linguistic stock did not matter.
Now as for historical tribal names, a great number tribes today have variations of historical names, but all are Indian. Look at the names of most NC tribes. Many of those names are not historical names, but they are still tribes. The fact of the matter is, most existing tribal names are not names which the tribes called themselves. Tribes evolve today as they have always done into branches. It is the way it has always been in one way or another. There are even two Cherokee tribes. There are numerous Chippewa tribes in Michigan, all with different modern name variants. I think what’s important, is what tribes call themselves.
In an exciting turn of events that has just come to my attention, a bill to recognize the Chowanoke Nation has just been submitted to the North Carolina General Assembly and is moving along quickly! View the bill here:
And see the progress of the bill here:
If you would like to help, send emails to the North Carolina State representatives in support of this bill. It is set to go in effect as of July should it pass. Woo Hoo!
The Indian people centered on the Potecasi Creek from Hertford County and the surrounding area have always had multiple ethnic elements to their population. The Meherrin as they are known today are resultant from the historic Meherrin tribe who is documented to have moved to the Potecasi Creek in the middle to latter part of the 18th century. The area they emigrated to was already populated by mixed race landowners of Indian ancestry. Family names such as Nickens and Weaver are associated with Powhatan Indians from Virginia, while others such as Wiggins are known from records to have been Tuscarora. The modern Meherrin believe that the mixed race landowners took Meherrin wives, keeping the ethnic identity alive and creating matrilineal descent from the Meherrin. (As a side note, the historic Meherrin prior to this point are documented to have taken in Susquehanna refugees and encamped for a while with the Chowanoke Indians around the time of the Chowanoke War in 1676.) Beginning in the 1830s, when the last of the Chowanoke Land was sold, Several well documented Chowanoke families from the Robbins family also moved to the Hertford county and surrounding area, and there was intermarriage with the ancestors of the modern descendants, so that today the Robbins surname is common within the Meherrin.
Many internal issues created tension after the Meherrin reorganized in the 1970s into later decades. Two, shall we say, political parties emerged within the people, one primarily loyal to Chief Thomas Lewis and another loyal to former Chief Wayne Brown. The Lewis Meherrin desired a name change to the Meherrin-Chowanoke and the Brown Meherrin didn't. That wasn't the only issue, there were multiple causes, but at one point the Brown Meherrin came to a meeting in which they brought forth a vote to remove Lewis from office. Since then a legal battle surrounding this event emerged. Lewis's followers claimed the vote was illegal for multiple reason, and Brown of course claimed it was. In the end, the courts did not rule in favor of one or the other. A vote was scheduled to select between the two as candidates for Chief, but the Lewis Meherrin abstained from the vote, choosing to seperate themselves totally with the Brown Meherrin. Subsequently, the Lewis Meherrin are now known as the Meherrin-Chowanoke Nation, and the Brown Meherrin are known as the Meherrin Nation. The Meherrin-Chowanoke wish the Meherrin Nation well, however, and animosity is left in the past as the two groups strive for their own seperate goals.
view the website for up-to-date information from the Meherrin-Chowanoke:
Please see the following open letter from Chief Thomas "Two Feathers" Lewis:
The Choanoac marker ceremony was a success! For the First time in hundreds of years, the Robbins and Bennett family stood together to honor their ancestors. Thank you for that, Marvin and Shoshone! See the links below to see a video of the ceremony and article by Shoshone.