Family Traditions

Posted by Monica Hoel
Traditions are important for most families. But family traditions might be just a little more crucial to Erika Wright. As a member of the Virginia indigenous tribe Cheroenhaka (Nottoway), Erika understands that traditions are more than just something to share with other family members: traditions are a matter of cultural survival.

There is documented historic data that traces Erika’s ancestors back to the 1700s, but it’s highly likely that their history is much older. And the tribe works every day to be recognized and understood – either by the government or even by local community members. They’ve been able to purchase back their native lands (located in Courtland, Virginia) but they find that even though they do routine events and educational programs they have a lot of neighbors who are still unaware of their existence. “We just really just want people to understand who we are and what our history and culture are. And we want people to understand that we’re still here doing the same things we’ve always done.”

Erika is actually royalty: her father is the Vice Chief and she is a Princess who could feasibly become the first female chief of her tribe. But that elevated stature doesn’t make her immune to some of the hurtful stereotypes that still surface regarding Native Americans. “The first thing some people do when I tell them I’m American Indian is dance in a circle with their hand on their mouth making ‘Indian’ noises from old tv westerns.” And while she doesn’t let most stereotypes bother her, she can’t help being offended when people dress as Native Americans for Halloween. “Our traditional attire is so sacred and rooted in religion and spirituality that it’s hard not to feel like people see it as fictional. Our regalia can cost thousands of dollars and take years to construct, so it’s a really big deal.”

Erika feels like some progress for greater acceptance and understanding have been made during her lifetime because she recalls being in school and not seeing her own family listed among the indigenous Virginia tribes – but now Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) is listed with all the other Native American groups in Virginia. “It’s important for people to understand that we played an important role in the formation of our country.”

Erika is currently studying to be an occupational therapy assistant and doesn’t know where she’ll practice when she finishes her training – but her travels will give her an opportunity to widen the influence and scope of her historic family traditions.

You can enjoy an insightful conversation with Erika in which she also talks about her tribe’s vital relationship with the natural world. You can listen hear it on the “Duck Pond Wall” podcast wherever you listen to podcasts!

  • Erika Wright (left, Emory & Henry Class of 2011) with her father and sister in traditional regalia.

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  • <div class="lw_news_image"><span class="lw_item_thumb"><a href="/live/news/2374-austen-bells-busy-summer-is-leading-to-an-even"><picture class="lw_image"> <source type="image/png" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/30,204,796,970/11406_image.rev.1655252559.png 2x"/> <img src="/live/image/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/30,204,796,970/11406_image.rev.1655252559.png" alt="Austen Bell Emory & Henry Class of 2020" width="345" height="225" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/30,204,796,970/11406_image.rev.1655252559.png 2x" data-max-w="766" data-max-h="766" loading="lazy"/> </picture> </a></span></div><div class="lw_widget_text"><h4 class="lw_news_headline"><a href="/live/news/2374-austen-bells-busy-summer-is-leading-to-an-even">Austen Bell’s Busy Summer is Leading to an Even Busier Career</a></h4><div class="lw_news_summary"><p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Austen is spending the summer of 2022 in Emory, but there are bigger goals on the horizon.</span></p><a href="/live/news/2374-austen-bells-busy-summer-is-leading-to-an-even" class="link-with-arrow gold">Keep reading</a></div></div>
  • <div class="lw_news_image"><span class="lw_item_thumb"><a href="/live/news/2453-donald-thurston-is-living-a-life-of-promise"><picture class="lw_image"> <source type="image/png" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,14,1165,1180/12028_Donald_Thurston.rev.1662723843.png 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,14,1165,1180/12028_Donald_Thurston.rev.1662723843.png 3x"/> <img src="/live/image/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,14,1165,1180/12028_Donald_Thurston.rev.1662723843.png" alt="Donald Thurston Emory & Henry Class of 1999" width="345" height="225" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,14,1165,1180/12028_Donald_Thurston.rev.1662723843.png 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,14,1165,1180/12028_Donald_Thurston.rev.1662723843.png 3x" data-max-w="1165" data-max-h="1166" loading="lazy"/> </picture> </a></span></div><div class="lw_widget_text"><h4 class="lw_news_headline"><a href="/live/news/2453-donald-thurston-is-living-a-life-of-promise">Donald Thurston is Living a Life of Promise</a></h4><div class="lw_news_summary"> Donald Thurston has pledged to be his best: and he is setting a fine example for a younger generation. <a href="/live/news/2453-donald-thurston-is-living-a-life-of-promise" class="link-with-arrow gold">Keep reading</a></div></div>
  • <div class="lw_news_image"><span class="lw_item_thumb"><a href="/live/news/1131-katelyn-bland-clark-on-using-film-for-social"><picture class="lw_image"> <source type="image/webp" srcset="/live/image/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,1024,1024/7384_UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_aa.rev.1580228191.webp 1x, /live/image/scale/2x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,1024,1024/7384_UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_aa.rev.1580228191.webp 2x"/> <source type="image/jpeg" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,1024,1024/7384_UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_aa.rev.1580228191.jpg 2x"/> <img src="/live/image/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,1024,1024/7384_UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_aa.rev.1580228191.jpg" alt="Katelyn Clark, E&H Class of 2010." width="345" height="225" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,1024,1024/7384_UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_aa.rev.1580228191.jpg 2x" data-max-w="1024" data-max-h="1024" loading="lazy"/> </picture> </a></span></div><div class="lw_widget_text"><h4 class="lw_news_headline"><a href="/live/news/1131-katelyn-bland-clark-on-using-film-for-social">Katelyn Bland-Clark on Using Film for Social Justice</a></h4><div class="lw_news_summary"> Katelyn is a development associate for an organization giving voice to underserved film artists. <a href="/live/news/1131-katelyn-bland-clark-on-using-film-for-social" class="link-with-arrow gold">Keep reading</a></div></div>