Kevin Brown elected as new Pamunkey Chief

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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – In November of 2008, The Pamunkey tribe in King William County, Virginia elected a new Chief, Kevin Brown. Brown is taking the place of former Pamunkey Chief, William P. Miles who has served since 1990.

Miles will retain his position at the VCI.

The Pamunkey Tribal Government consists of one Chief and seven council members, which are elected every four years. He was formally named Chief of the Pamunkey on Dec. 1.

Brown, born in Pennsylvania, has spent nearly every summer at the Pamunkey reservation as a child, and has lived and worked there since he was 18 years old. He is visibly proud of his tribe’s rich history.

The Pamunkey tribe was part of the Powhatan Confederacy that first interacted with European settlers in the 1600s. The 1646 and 1677 treaties with the British crown established articles of peace and a land base for the tribe.

The Commonwealth of Virginia has recognized the Pamunkey as an Indian Tribe since colonial times. As Chief of the Pamunkey, Brown will be serving on the United State’s oldest Indian Reservation.

Brown is also an artist whose pottery and sculptures are part of the permanent collections at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. and the Sioux Indian Museum in Rapid City, S.D. He has worked for “Akwesasne Notes” and traveled with the renowned activist group the White Roots of Peace in the 1970s.

“We made a lot of trips to schools and community colleges and really brought a positive light to native people. We debunked many myths. An Indian does not make you some kind of magician to the spirit world. However, living with nature every day would give you more common sense and insight to your surroundings,” Brown said.

As the newly elected chief, Brown spoke about the current state of the Pamunkey Reservation. “It’s changed a little bit since I was younger and it is getting a little more crowded. We have more people moving in with trailers. The homes that used to be there were hand-built farmhouses. But for the people that move there now and want to build a house, they can’t get a loan from the bank.”

Brown also mentioned that in the past, much of the reservation land was leased to outside farmers. However, Brown remarked the land suffered considerable damage because of cotton crops and the use of herbicides and pesticides.

“People are trying to get away from renting to these outside farmers. Cotton is rough on the land. They started growing it about five years ago. They spray something that kills the leaves and only the cotton remains. You can smell it. We watched this crop suck everything out of the land and we told them not to farm cotton anymore,” Brown said.

He also asserts that he wants to strengthen cultural connections of the Pamunkey and other tribal people. “I would really like to remake some old acquaintances and bring some other Indians to the reservation to get us back into the circle of things. I want to get some Algonquin language classes started. But it’s a money thing to fly people down to teach.”

As a Virginia Indian tribe, the Pamunkey share similarities and differences to other Virginia Indians in that it is seeking Federal Recognition. Though supportive of the efforts of others, The Pamunkey are going about it differently than the rest. Brown wants to avoid the Virginia Politics and simply see the tribe’s application process pass through the BIA.

“All of the other tribes are going the political route,” Brown said, referring to the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act. The act will extend Federal recognition to Virginia Indian tribes. Tribes seeking this recognition are the Chickahominy, the Chickahominy Eastern Division, the Upper Mattaponi, the Rappahannock, the Monacan and the Nansemond Indian Tribes.

“I admire their dedication,” continued Brown. “We hope they get it. It’s overwhelming to me.”

Overall, Brown has a positive outlook on his position as chief. When asked if he took part in any formal ceremony in undertaking his position, Brown responded good naturedly, “Chief Miles walked up to me and gave me a big stack of papers and computer programs and files. Maybe that was the ceremony.”