RICHMOND, Va. - What Virginia students learn about American Indians could
include how the state committed "documentary genocide" against Indians
Gov. Mark Warner has asked the Virginia Department of Education to include
some of the state's darker moments in Indian history.
Warner made the announcement in his address to the Pamunkey and Mattaponi
Indian tribes during the tribes' annual tax tribute. The Department of
Education will begin the revisions of the History Standards of Learning,
the state's minimum expectation for student learning and achievement, in
Changes to the history curriculum could include information on the Virginia
Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which resulted in the replacement, among many
other things, of the "Indian" racial designation on legal documents such as
birth, marriage and death certificates. The Act, enforced by then-Vital
Statistic Registrar Walter Ashby Plecker, also reduced the number of
Indians on state and federal censuses.
"... We must ensure that we continue to recognize history of Virginia's
American Indian tribes. This includes teaching some of our less proud
moments in Virginia history," Warner said in his address. "To that end, I
am requesting that we revise the SOLs to ensure that Native American
history is both accurate and adequately covered in our schools."
The passing of the Racial Integrity Act resulted from the Eugenics
Movement, which intended to protect the white race through selective
breeding. At the forefront of its promotion was the Anglo-Saxon Club of
Virginia. While all Virginia Indian tribes and some Indians of terminated
tribes in the state were targeted, the Monacan Indian Nation, based in
Amherst County, Va., was the tribe fiercely harassed by state officials.
Also, several Monacan and Rappahannock Indians were imprisoned for refusing
to check "colored" on the racial designation section of military draft
Monacan Chief Kenneth Branham, who was harassed and ridiculed after being
one of the first Monacans allowed to attend local public schools in the
1960s, said the results of organizations like the Anglo-Saxon Club and the
state legislation that they pushed should be taught in Virginia to show
what happened to Indians. The fallout from the Eugenics Movements, he said,
is why Virginia Indians aren't federally recognized today.
"Also, it shows that what took place in Virginia played a big part in what
happened to other people in the world," Branham said. "The Eugenics
Movement here was used as a model by the Germans in the planning of
genocide against the Jews. It's a very ugly part of our history."
Charles Pyle, Virginia Department of Education communications director,
said state law requires that SOL standards be revised periodically. During
the last revision in 2001 of the history SOLs, the state created a "fully
representative group of people" who reviewed what was being taught, Pyle
said. This group included members such as Dr. Linwood Custalow, the
Mattaponi Indian Tribe oral historian.
Once the 2007 revisions are completed and ready for approval, the Virginia
Board of Education will determine if events such as the effects of the 1924
Racial Integrity Act will be included, Pyle said.
"There will be public hearings and multiple opportunities for members of
the public to voice what should or should not be included in that revision
just as there was in 2001," Pyle said. "It's not just a question of what's
included but also when and how it's included."
So far, Virginia students begin studying history in the second grade. Their
history at that time and throughout high school includes contributions of
American Indians, the different Indian language groups, the conflicts and
interactions with American Indians and how Indians used their environment
"We're trying to get more formal input from the chiefs [of Virginia tribes], and the tribal council as to what they think is the appropriate
way of teaching Indian history," said Bill Leighty, Warner's chief of staff
and advocate for the tribes.