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/1082-christina-adams-publishes-new-book"><picture class="lw_image"> <source type="image/webp" srcset="/live/image/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/332,364,2125,2156/7181_Crop_CamelChristinaPhotoShoot2014_010a.rev.1574366637.webp 1x, /live/image/scale/2x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/332,364,2125,2156/7181_Crop_CamelChristinaPhotoShoot2014_010a.rev.1574366637.webp 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/332,364,2125,2156/7181_Crop_CamelChristinaPhotoShoot2014_010a.rev.1574366637.webp 3x"/> <source type="image/jpeg" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/332,364,2125,2156/7181_Crop_CamelChristinaPhotoShoot2014_010a.rev.1574366637.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/332,364,2125,2156/7181_Crop_CamelChristinaPhotoShoot2014_010a.rev.1574366637.jpg 3x"/> <img src="/live/image/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/332,364,2125,2156/7181_Crop_CamelChristinaPhotoShoot2014_010a.rev.1574366637.jpg" alt="Christina Adams, E&H Class of 1983." width="345" height="225" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/332,364,2125,2156/7181_Crop_CamelChristinaPhotoShoot2014_010a.rev.1574366637.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/332,364,2125,2156/7181_Crop_CamelChristinaPhotoShoot2014_010a.rev.1574366637.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1793" data-max-h="1792" loading="lazy"/> </picture> </a></span></div><div class="lw_widget_text"><h4 class="lw_news_headline"><a href="/live/news/1082-christina-adams-publishes-new-book">Christina Adams Publishes New Book</a></h4><div class="lw_news_summary"><em>Camel Crazy</em> explores the mysterious powers of camel milk. <a href="/live/news/1082-christina-adams-publishes-new-book" class="link-with-arrow gold">Keep reading</a></div></div>
  • <div class="lw_news_image"><span class="lw_item_thumb"><a href="/live/news/715-micah-morris-chosen-by-national-leaders-council"><picture class="lw_image"> <source type="image/webp" srcset="/live/image/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,250,250/6034_Micah_Morris.rev.1551713188.webp 1x"/> <source type="image/jpeg" srcset="/live/image/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,250,250/6034_Micah_Morris.rev.1551713188.jpg 1x"/> <img src="/live/image/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,250,250/6034_Micah_Morris.rev.1551713188.jpg" alt="Micah Morris, E&H Class of '09" width="345" height="225" data-max-w="250" data-max-h="250" loading="lazy"/> </picture> </a></span></div><div class="lw_widget_text"><h4 class="lw_news_headline"><a href="/live/news/715-micah-morris-chosen-by-national-leaders-council">Micah Morris Chosen by National Leaders Council for 2019 Fellowship</a></h4></div>
  • <div class="lw_news_image"><span class="lw_item_thumb"><a href="/live/news/1725-coa-invites-eamph-for-one-more-road-trip"><picture class="lw_image"> <source type="image/webp" srcset="/live/image/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,470,470/9634_bristol_Train_station.rev.1617240659.webp 1x"/> <source type="image/jpeg" srcset="/live/image/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,470,470/9634_bristol_Train_station.rev.1617240659.jpg 1x"/> <img src="/live/image/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,470,470/9634_bristol_Train_station.rev.1617240659.jpg" alt="The Bristol Train Station just might be a haunted location." width="345" height="225" data-max-w="470" data-max-h="470" loading="lazy"/> </picture> </a></span></div><div class="lw_widget_text"><h4 class="lw_news_headline"><a href="/live/news/1725-coa-invites-eamph-for-one-more-road-trip">COA Invites E&H for One More Road Trip!</a></h4><div class="lw_news_summary"> The Emory & Henry Alumni Office is pleased to be participating one last time in the “College for Online Adults” sponsored by the SWVA Higher Education Center. <a href="/live/news/1725-coa-invites-eamph-for-one-more-road-trip" class="link-with-arrow gold">Keep reading</a></div></div>
  • <div class="lw_news_image"><span class="lw_item_thumb"><a href="/live/news/1988-kenton-williams-business-cant-be-as-usual-in-2021"><img src="/live/image/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,800,800/10040_Kenton_Williams.jfif" alt=" Kenton Williams Emory & Henry Class of 2014 " class="lw_image" width="345" height="225"/></a></span></div><div class="lw_widget_text"><h4 class="lw_news_headline"><a href="/live/news/1988-kenton-williams-business-cant-be-as-usual-in-2021">Kenton Williams: Business Can’t Be “As Usual” in 2021</a></h4><div class="lw_news_summary"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Kenton Williams is back home leading the family business: but it’s not business as it always was.</span> <a href="/live/news/1988-kenton-williams-business-cant-be-as-usual-in-2021" class="link-with-arrow gold">Keep reading</a></div></div>