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Rappahannock chief addresses RCC audiences

As part of Rappahannock Community College’s observance of Women’s History Month, Chief Anne Richardson of the Rappahannock Tribe spoke at the college’s Warsaw Campus (with interactive video participation at the Glenns Campus) on March 20. Richardson is the first woman to become chief of any Virginia tribe since Cockcoeske ruled the Powhatan Confederacy in the mid-1600s. As the descendant of several previous chiefs, including her father, Richardson grew up with the tribe’s concepts of leadership. “I followed my dad everywhere,” she says, “hunting, fishing, and meeting with the other chiefs. I absorbed the ‘wisdom of the ages,’ and met many other future leaders.”

L. Justice and Chief Richardson

L. Justice and Chief Richardson

Richardson described a way of life that might seem foreign to modern Americans, but that made her the rooted, grounded, and confident person she is today. Her mother taught her the traditional skills—such as dancing and beadwork—as well as how to operate within the Native American value system. Within her clan of seven families, she says, the mothers ran everything, including arranging marriages to prevent inbreeding among a group who are all related to some degree. “When you go courting,” says Richardson, “you court a family, not a person. Usually one of your siblings goes with you, and may marry into the same family.”

“The elders decide what each child will do as an adult,” Richardson says, “and teach them the skills they will need”—in her case, leadership, business, and organizational skills. At 14 or 15 years of age, she began writing letters for her father and helping him with other tribal business; at 21 she was recognized as his assistant chief, and in 1998—toward the end of his life, when his health failed—she was voted in to succeed him as chief. Since then she has never stopped trying to “make things better” for the tribe, which involved among other things graduating from RCC. Later she went on to J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College and Virginia Commonwealth University, but, she says, “RCC was the foundation.” She is now a national advocate of higher education for Native Americans.

“Don’t underestimate the power of one person,” she advises, instancing the accomplishments of such forward-thinking individuals as Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, and Martin Luther King. “They did things that changed nations. But it does not come without sacrifice. You have to be willing to make sacrifices—that’s what makes you a leader. And without being a leader, without knowledge, nothing changes. Don’t be afraid to step out and do what you’re supposed to do. Go with confidence and you will be able to get it done.”

Photo: Chief Anne Richardson of the Rappahannock Tribe, at right, gave an inspirational talk at RCC’s Warsaw Campus on March 20. At left is Lorraine Justice, administrative officer of RCC’s Student Support Services program, who coordinated the event.

One Response to “Rappahannock chief addresses RCC audiences”

  1. Joan Johnson says:

    I am currently taking HUM 215 Native American Culture through Virginia Western Community College. The instructor, Mr. Larry Jent is an old friend with Chief Richardson.
    RCC should offer this course through Shared Services especially since we have such a wonderful population of Native Americans in our area.
    Thank you for inviting Chief Richardson to our campus.

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