Obama eyes sacred Va. Indian site as US park unit

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 26, 2014 at 9:57 am •  Published: May 26, 2014
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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Land along the York River that archaeologists believe was the center of a vast Indian empire before the first Europeans settled in Virginia is gaining White House attention as a possible addition to the National Park System.

President Barack Obama has set aside $6 million to acquire more than 250 acres of the former Indian village in Gloucester to achieve that goal. Congress must approve the funding in the 2015 funding proposal.

Called Werowocomoco (pronounced Wehr-oh-woh-KAHM-uh-koh), the land is believed to have been the seat of power for Powhatan.

Powhatan oversaw an empire that included 30 political divisions and 15,000 to 20,000 Indians at the time Capt. John Smith and his fellow settlers established the first permanent English settlement in North America in 1607. Some Virginia Indians have called the site "our Washington, D.C."

It is also believed to be where Pocahontas appealed to Powhatan, her father, to spare the life of Smith. That story has its share of skeptics, however. Some historians believe Smith may have misinterpreted Indian intentions or inflated his adventures in the New World.

Archaeological digs have revealed a longhouse befitting the stature of Powhatan and the outlines of ditches that experts believe delineated sacred and secular portions of Werowocomoco, also indicative of Powhatan's stature.

Archaeologists worked with descendants of Indian tribes to understand the site. Some 58 acres have already been preserved to ensure they'll never be developed.

Archaeologist Martin Gallivan helped lead a dig at the site and is working on a book on the Algonquian chiefdoms, including Powhatan. Making the site a unit of the federal park system would elevate it to the status of other important American historic destinations, such as Jamestown and Yorktown.

"I think it deserves that status given the events that occurred there in the early Colonial period and the deeper history of the Powhatans," said Gallivan, a professor of archaeology at the College of William and Mary. "If it was included in the national park system that would give the American public the chance to learn that history."

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