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400th anniversary of Hampton celebrates Thunder on the Bay

HAMPTON, Va. – As part of a year-long series of celebrations to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Hampton, Va., thousands of attendees, Native dancers, vendors and artists turned out to celebrate “Thunder on the Bay – The American Indian Festival” in Buckroe Beach, Hampton, Va. on Sept. 18.

The City of Hampton, known as North America’s oldest continuous English speaking settlement, coordinated the event with the help of Virginia Beach Parks and Recreation staff member Keith Anderson, Cherokee/Catawba, who is also the executive director and co-founder of Red Crooked Sky, an American Indian dance troupe based in Virginia.

As one of the coordinators of Thunder on the Bay, Anderson thought the event was a success.

“I feel phenomenal. For me this is an early Christmas present. It is a true honor for everyone, Native and non-Native, that comes together to participate in a great event like this. For over 10 years I have been helping to organize powwows and this is the first time Hampton has done anything like this. It is a phenomenal thing to see such a diverse representation of Native people from Canada all the way to Florida.”

One aspect that impressed Anderson was the large turnout of Native dancers and drum groups to the event even though there was not any prize money being offered. “One of the most important things I would like to say is that about 90 percent of our events are contest-related. It is what it is, but if you bring quality resources together the right way, you can have a great traditional event.

“Contests are oversaturated in our culture. We can go back to dancing for the love of it and honoring it. When you dance for the love and honor of it – that is a dream come true.”

Karenne Wood, a Monacan Indian Nation council member and the director of the Virginia Indian Heritage Program at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, was also at the event. As a member of a Virginia Indian tribe currently vying for federal recognition, Wood commented on the positive steps the Commonwealth of Virginia has taken in recognizing three Virginia Indian tribes at the state level this year – many of whom were present at the Thunder on the Bay celebration.

“We are going to have to make all new textbooks now. We just changed all the textbooks. It is exciting to get the language changed and help people to realize we have a contemporary presence of Native people in Virginia.”

Before disappearing into the crowd, Wood exclaimed “I feel so good about this; I am here to have a good time and connect with people I haven’t seen in a long time.”

In addition to the celebration that took place Sept. 18, the previous evening’s crowd of thousands attended a concert by Nammy Award-winning flute player Jeff Ball. Ball, learning that comments were positive about his performance, specifically that he “hit the zone” laughed and said, “Well you never necessarily start with the intention to get there, but you start to play and hope for the best.” After Ball’s concert the crowd was wowed by a fireworks display celebrating the 400th anniversary of the city.

Overall, Anderson noted the positive spirit of the event. “The vendors and everyone else – there is no tension, no anxiety, people are just glad to be here.”

The City of Hampton will continue to celebrate the 400th anniversary throughout 2010. Past events have included a reenactment of the city’s Annual Landing Day, in which the first colonists who landed in 1607 have a peaceful meeting between the Kecoughtan “inhabitants of a great town” people and European settlers; Tours of St. John’s Church, a church established in 1610 that displays a stained glass window depicting the baptism of Pocahontas and an exhibition of more than 100 photos from the famous Christopher Cheyne photograph collection at the Hampton History Museum.

Other events have included the Annual Blackbeard Pirate Festival, Hampton Bay Days, The Tidewater Boat show, The Hampton Jazz Festival and Aberdeen Gardens Heritage Day.

For a list of events taking place for the remainder of 2010 visit