Interview with Wayne Adkins

Dublin Core


Interview with Wayne Adkins


Karenne Wood, director of the Virginia Indian Program at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, interviews Wayne Adkins, then–second assistant chief of the Chickahominy, at the Chickahominy Tribal Center in New Kent County.


Karenne Wood


Virginia Folklife Program


February 2007


twentieth century

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Karenne Wood


Wayne Adkins


Chickahominy Tribal Center
8200 Lott Cary Rd , Charles City, VA 23030


Wood: This is an interview with Wayne Adkins at the Chickahominy Tribal Center. You want to talk a little bit about how you got into dancing?

Adkins: I’ve always been interested in the culture and in dancing in particular; I’m a member of the Chickahominy Tribe, and we’ve been having a powwow—we actually started calling it a Fall Festival to begin with, and it started out in 1951, and it started out primarily as a program where we’d have political speakers to come in, and then we’d have a small program, but there was always dancing at the end of the program, and that’s what really sparked my interest. You could also see that, for the people in attendance, that seemed to be the highlight, too—they were more interested in the dancing, to the point that eventually you could see when the speakers were talking, the audience would be talking among themselves. As soon as the dancers started, you had full attention on what was going on. So I’ve always been interested in trying to learn anything I could about the culture, and the dancing was one of the obvious ones.

How we really got started with that, because the powwow was once a year, that was about the only time we got to dance, and like one or two weeks before the powwow, we always called him Mr. Sam, some people called him Uncle Sam, would come down from New York, and he would work with the students, he would come to school and work with us on some of the dances, so we’d be ready. He would always come down and help out. That’s how I really got started with it, just a once a year kinda thing, and then we had one of our tribal members to go away to Bacone [Indian School in Muskogee, Oklahoma], Clifton Holmes. He came back from Bacone to teach in Samaria School, he was a history teacher. And along with that, he brought the idea of starting a dance group—I think he had seen the same thing at Bacone, where they had an intertribal dance group. So when he came back, one of the things he did was to organize a Chickahominy dance group. That’s how most of us, in the past two generations, I guess, that’s how we actually got started in that dance group. And it was kinda two-fold, obviously it taught us how to do the dances—they were dances that had been passed down but really hadn’t been taught.

Obviously, because of the history of the tribe, a lot of families didn’t share that kind of information with their children because I guess it was a form of protection against discrimination and the racism. So when the dance group was started, we got the chance to learn the dances, and then the other side of that was to do the dances for groups and organizations, particularly Boy Scout groups were big. We would go to Boy Scout groups, church groups, PTAs, anybody who was interested. And that was our way of learning it ourselves and also sharing it with the rest of the public, because, as you’re well aware, so many people weren’t even aware that Virginia Indians still existed back in the sixties, even today that’s still that problem. But this was mid—I think it was 1963, ’64 time frame, when Clifton started the dance group.

Wood: How old were you then?

Adkins: I was too young to dance in the group (laughs)—I think I was, I was probably, in ’64 I would’ve been eleven years old, and one of the rules was to dance in the dance group, you had to be fourteen, because the dance group would go away. We traveled all over the state, primarily in the Richmond area, but we did travel across the state, so the sponsors of the group and the chaperones wanted to be sure that people who were going were reasonably well-behaved, I guess. They didn’t want to have to babysit the younger kids, so one of the stipulations was, you had to be fourteen. So as soon as I turned fourteen, which woulda been in ’67, so I don’t know if I joined the group in ’67 or ’68, but somewhere in that time frame, as soon as I turned fourteen or soon thereafter, I joined the group.

We looked at it as an educational thing, to educate ourselves as well as to educate the public. Obviously a lot of people look at it as entertainment too, but we never looked at it that way, because the way the programs were done, and the way we still do them, we have a narrator who explains what the dances are, and what they mean, and along with that, you weave in the history of the tribes, from the very beginning up until today, you incorporate something about how the dance fit into the culture, what that part of the culture was like. For example, we had a welcome dance, and the story that we were told was the welcome dance was actually done by visitors, so it doesn’t really sound like it was a welcome dance. The visitor would have to come in and dance to the Tribal Council and the chiefs, and when the chief felt that the visitor was truly coming in friendship and really wanted to transact business, then the chief would dance with him, and then they would transact their business. You know as well as I do that when you dance with someone that’s kind of a special relationship there, you’ve acknowledged that person and, granted, I don’t want to say granted the right, but by dancing with someone you’ve established a certain bond with them, I think. So how we weave that into the history is that when the English came—we weren’t led by a single chief, but we had a Council of Elders called the mungai, so I explain to them [the audience] that in those days in would’ve been done—the visitor would dance to the mungais, and one of those mungais would be appointed as the chief mungai and he would be the one to decide whether to accept the dancer, the visitor, or not.

Wood: What if he didn’t accept it?

Adkins: We’re told that they danced for days at a time, sometimes, and I guess maybe if it went long enough, maybe the visitor said, “Well, I’m not gonna do this anymore” (laughs). So that’s the story that we’ve been told. And then into to that I can say, “Well, that’s how things were in the early 1600s, but today we do have a council, we do have an elected chief, and back then a lot of it was more hereditary, and it was also made up of religious leaders but today we elect our tribal council members, and I explain we have twelve members, a chief and two assistant chiefs, and I also bring in the fact that we have women on our council now and that women are a very important part of the culture, and then I can spring back to in the 1600s, how important women were to the culture. So you try to weave it all into a story built around the dances.

Wood: Wayne Adkins, Chickahominy Tribal Center, continued.

Adkins: Even today, [women] have a large say in what we do, and they’re an active part of our leadership, and so forth, so we weave that, jumping back and forth, so I think what I was trying to say was, we give out a lot of history to people, but we also intersperse it with the dancing, so that I think they’re learning in spite of themselves (laughs). They might not realize it, because a lot of them do look at it as entertainment, and so they are getting that entertainment factor if that’s what they came for, but they are also getting some history that they may not have come to hear and maybe they never knew before. I’m finding that, for the most part, most people don’t know anything about the history, or very little about it.

So that’s really how I got started, and so for the last almost-forty years off and on I’ve been participating in the dance group as a member and I’ve had different positions in the group, as president, vice president, I think I was probably secretary at one time. Right now, my title is coordinator, and essentially what I do is, people call me when they want the dance group to come to do a presentation, they’ll call me, and then I’ll call the dance group members and work out the details. And generally I also do the speaking, when we do the presentations.

Wood: Like you did in England …

Adkins: Right, exactly.

Wood: So do you want to talk a little bit about those trips to Europe that you’ve been involved with?

Adkins: Those have been very interesting. The one thing in particular I found out is there’s a very keen interest in Europe in the Indian culture. Sometimes I think they may still be grounded back in the 16-, 1700s. I think they still think of us as living that way sometimes, and still living in the old ways that we were living when the Europeans came here, but regardless of that, there’s still a very keen interest. People are always interested in knowing more about us.

We’ve had the opportunity to go to France twice, and then also to England. I went to France once, I went on the second time. And that was an intertribal group. The first group, I believe, there were members from Maryland as well as North Carolina and Virginia, so not only was it intertribal, it was an interstate group too, and they went to France. It’s part of a carnival that’s held in Nice, it’s a multicultural-type festival that they have annually. And what people didn’t know at the time was that they were also being judged, there was a big contest. And at the end of the carnival, the dance group had won a trophy, and they didn’t even realize they were competing for one. So that was quite a thing, they ended up with a trophy and they got a nice banner to bring back, to hang up.

That really sparked interest, I think, in going the second time around. I was able to go the second time, more by luck than anything, because they needed another male dancer, and I happened to have a passport, and being a male dancer too, so I was able to go. And we sorta did very similar things to what we do, except it was an intertribal event. We were based in Nice, but we would go out every day from Nice to various cities around Nice and do presentations to different groups. Most of them were public presentations. There were different festivals, all part of the carnival that was going on. So we got a lot of interest in those presentations. And we didn’t win a trophy that time, I’m not sure they were even giving out trophies that year, but it was very interesting to me, ‘cause it was my first time to Europe, obviously first time to France, on the Mediterranean, it was just very different from what we’re used to here.

And then last year, in 2006, we had the opportunity to go to England, which was a big event for most of us. Again, I think most people in the group had never been outside the United States, much less going to France or going to England or Europe, so it was a big event for all of us. Also, a very busy event (laughs). There was something going on every day, some presentation that we were doing. But again, there was such an interest there that you kinda feed off of the interest of the people. At the end of the day, you’re tired, but it’s a good tired because you feel like you’ve done something worthwhile, something that people were interested in.

Probably the biggest thing was the dance event that we did, that seemed to be the thing that got the most attention, again because it was a public event that may be why it got so much attention. We did, on two days, on that weekend, we did a dance presentation, a ninety-minute dance presentation of primarily Virginia tribal dances. We did a few that I call generic-type dances that all tribes do, particularly at powwows, but we tried to concentrate on the Virginia dances, because we were representing ourselves—we weren’t trying to represent all Indians. It was a Virginia Indian event, we wanted people to know more about the Virginia Indian culture and particularly how it contrasts with other tribes. ‘Cause that’s another thing that I found out throughout the years, that many people think an Indian is an Indian. So if one tribe does something, all tribes do the same thing, they don’t realize that each tribe was a distinct culture, distinct languages, and that therefore they were different from one another—there are a lot of similarities, but there are also differences. I like to point that out, particularly when I get a chance to speak, and so that’s primarily what we were trying to do with the dance event, was to try to bring out those differences, but also to highlight the Virginia Indian dance culture, and that was an intertribal group, and we were accompanied by the intertribal drum. So that, I think, was a first time, too, to have the intertribal drum.

It was well received, both days, and we were asked to do ninety minutes, and the first day, we were told to do no more than ninety minutes, because apparently British are very punctual so (laughs) they run by the clock. And so the second day, we were told we had ninety minutes, but towards the end, people just wanted more, and we could’ve gone on, who knows how long, if we would have the stamina, I think people would’ve stayed for hours at a time, but we may have gone maybe almost two hours. We decided to stop at that point. There was definitely an interest there, the people would gather around, and they wouldn’t leave until the last drumbeat had died out. It was very, I guess heartwarming is the word I think about, to see people with that kind of interest and appreciation more than anything, appreciating what you do and who you are, and appreciating your culture. To have that intertribal group, it did a lot of good I think—obviously we presented the culture to the Europeans, to the English, but I think it also brought the tribal members closer together too—to work on, something like, a project that we could work on together, and see such good results come from it. We formed a lot of new relationships, and I think it deepened some relationships that were already there, it was definitely a worthwhile event.

Wood: How do you feel about the continuity of dancing among the tribes, do you feel like it’s something that the kids are picking up, are interested in?

Adkins: I think what I see here, particularly at Chickahominy, there’s an interest, but it seems to be pretty sporadic, and that’s the kind of thing I’m pinning my hopes on, is each generation seems to have one or two people who are interested in learning and carrying it on, ‘cause at this point, our dance group is not as well organized as it should be, to be able to pass the dances on. ‘Cause when I first joined the group, we would meet regularly, we would practice and teach each other the dances. Then we got to the point that most of us, the younger generation wasn’t coming in, to join in, so it was more people my age and a little younger, and obviously we didn’t feel the need to practice, we just stopped doing our practices. So we’re losing some continuity there, and we’re not passing on the dances to the young people the way we should.

Each year I say that I’m gonna make an effort to get that started again, but each year it seems like something else comes up, particularly the federal recognition effort. But I would like to start again, meeting on a regular basis, and teaching the young people to dance. There’s a couple of things, one other thing, we used to have a school here on Saturdays, we taught the culture to the children because they weren’t really getting it at home, so we were teaching pottery, beadwork, leather work, history, and dancing. But that program has collapsed too—at this point, we don’t have the funding for it. So there’s that generation that’s not getting that instruction in the culture that several other generations have gotten.

So we have a two-fold effort—we’d like to get that started again, and we’d also like to get the dance group more active, so that we can pass on this information to be sure that it doesn’t die out, and I think the one thing we’re facing, the same with other tribes, is there’s so many competing interests for the young people. And typically, on weekends, they quite often don’t wanna go to another day of school—they’ve been in school for five days (laughs). And even though it’s a cultural school, and it’s different from the regular school, it’s still school to them, and so I know some of them really don’t like the idea of doing that. And with video games and computers, the Internet, now cell phones and all this other stuff, it’s just competing with their interest. I’m finding it hard to I think, to get their interest. I do hold onto the fact that in each generation, I see one or two who are interested enough that they wanna learn. They’re the ones I try to latch onto and encourage them, help them out wherever I can, because I know they’re gonna be the future, and we have to keep them going.

That’s what I see here at the Chickahominy Tribe, and I think it’s the same everywhere. There’s just so many other interests competing for the children’s time, particularly, even school things like athletic teams, we run into that. The kids wanna be part of their school, they wanna be on the athletic teams or cheerleading, whatever it might be, and that takes time away from other things. We compete with that, and I certainly don’t wanna discourage them from being part of that, ‘cause they really do need to be part of their school.




Karenne Wood, “Interview with Wayne Adkins,” Virginia Indian Archive, accessed July 6, 2022,

Output Formats