Monacan Tribal leader Sharon Bryant, the first woman in the tribe to hold the position of chief, walked on Tuesday morning due to cancer at the age of 54. She was a lifelong resident of Amherst County Virginia and, after having been elected in 2011, worked for years to gain federal recognition for her tribe through the Thomasina Jordan Act.
In NewsAdvance.com, Chief Bryant’s uncle Herbert Hicks said “Sharon is the daughter I never had. I’m sure that she was an inspiration to a lot of the women in the tribe and hopefully a lot of the men.”
Dean Branham, the former Monacan assistant Chief who now serves as Chief of the Monacan Nation also spoke well of Bryant. “Sharon meant a lot to me. She taught me a lot and I learned a lot from Sharon. Sharon was very instrumental to the nation and to this community.”
Earlier this month, Chief Bryant also known as “Bear Woman,” spoke to Newsadvance.com about her medical prognosis of advanced liver cancer and thought she might have only weeks to live. She had a message of inspiration.
“You can make a change in the world by just dreaming and loving people and committing yourself to what you believe in,” Bryant said. “No matter what your background is or where you come from or what your struggles have been there’s always an opportunity to change,” Bryant said.
In February of this year, several Virginia Congressmen reintroduced the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act in hopes that six Virginia Indian tribes would eventually receive official federal recognition by an act of Congress. The Monacan Indian Nation is one of the six tribes.
In its history, the Thomasina E. Jordan bill has been introduced several times including the 113th congress in May of 2013, but has not been enacted.
The six tribes, which are all recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia and are seeking to gain federal recognition are the Chickahominy, the Eastern Chickahominy, the Upper Mattaponi, the Rappahannock, the Monacan and the Nansemond.
The 2015 bill was brought to the House by Republican Rob Wittman and Democrats Gerry Connolly, Don Beyer, and Bobby Scott, and to the Senate by Virginia senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, both Democrats.
When the bill was reintroduced earlier this year, Chief Bryant said the following to ICTMN expressing her appreciation that her tribe was taking steps forward to be recognized. “Each time our bill is submitted we are always hopeful for a positive vote. We do absolutely believe that it is our right as descendants of Virginia's indigenous people to request and receive status as a federally recognized tribe.
“The Virginia tribes have paid a high price to exist here. After agreeing to be peaceful and choosing to live our lives outside of mainstream society, it seems we became irrelevant to the people in power,” she continued. “Over the last several hundred years we have seen our village and burial sites plowed under in the name of progress and prosperity and we have seen our land, language and traditions dwindle away in our daily struggles to survive,” she said.
“Yet, here we are still, hanging on to our identity and culture despite considerable adversity. So, becoming a federally recognized tribe is definitely, for us, not about casinos but about righting a wrong and seeking justice for the inequality and misrepresentation perpetrated against our ancestors (which continues on many levels even today), helping our young people and elders have a better quality of life, and a desperate hope to secure a future that encompasses our cultural identity for our grandchildren's grandchildren.”
In addition to serving as Chief of the Monacan Indians, Bryant was a parishioner and lay minister at St. Paul’s Episcopal Mission, Bear Mountain, in Amherst, Virginia.