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Pamunkey Indian artifact nominated for honors

Program helps to restore, maintain historical artifacts

By JACKSON McMILLAN, jmcmillan@tidewaterreview.com

9:25 AM EDT, August 23, 2014

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KING WILLIAM — The Virginia Association of Museums has nominated a Pamunkey Indian tribal artifact for the 2014 Virginia's Top 10 Endangered Artifacts competition. 

The competition features 36 artifacts from across the commonwealth and Washington D.C. and is used "to engage the media and create public awareness about the ongoing and expensive care that collections require," according to a summary on the program's website.

The tribe's featured artifact is regalia once belonging to Paul Miles, a former chief of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe in King William County. The 84-year-old garment is made of materials such as deerskin and chicken bones, as well as glass and wooden beads. Chief Miles wore the regalia during cultural ceremonies — most notably during the Pamunkey Tribe's annual treaty tribute to the governor of Virginia, a tradition that has existed for nearly 300 years.

"The suit is unique in the fact that it is a blend of eastern woodlands and western plains designs," Pamunkey Indian Chief Kevin Brown said. "It was handmade by Virginia Indians and is from the oldest reservation in the country. It's a valuable historical artifact for everybody."

Brown said the garment earning a spot in the top 10 could allow for its much-needed restoration.

"It would be a great thing [if the suit won]," Brown said. "It [would allow] conservators take a look at it and restore it so future generations could see."

Ashley Spivey, director and curator of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe Museum, said the regalia is in great need of repair.

"The object is actively deteriorating," Spivey said. "We want to bring awareness to our museum and our renovation efforts, and conservation is one of those efforts."

Brown said the nomination couldn't have come at a more exciting time. The artifact's nomination came only months before the Pamunkey Indian Tribe is to receive its final determination for full federal recognition, something the tribe has sought to achieve since 1982.

Full federal recognition would allow Pamunkey tribal members to apply for a variety of programs, such as health and housing services, and higher-learning opportunities.

Virginia Association of Museums (VAM) Assistant Director Christina Newton says the Virginia's Top 10 Artifacts Program — now in its fourth year — was created through a federal grant from the Institute of Library and Museum Services to promote collections care. Because of the program's success, similar programs have been created in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Colorado.

Newton says that although the public voting numbers are lower than the previous years, she expects to see a sharp increase as the voting deadline nears.

"Last year there were 16 artifacts and we had nearly 200,000 votes," Newton said. "Voting isn't as strong this year, but we know a lot of voting happens near the end [of the competition]."

Newton also says that while no money is awarded to the honorees, several past artifacts have seen restoration through public outreach efforts.

"Last year, an artifact at the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk was funded through the publicity the item received," Newton said. "The press has been imperative to success stories throughout the past three years."

Conservators and collections care professionals choose the 10 artifact honorees after public polling ends, while the artifact with the most public votes is given the People's Choice Award.

Past artifact honorees include a painting by folk artist Minnie Ma Scyphers, a combat flag flown during at Utah Beach during the D-Day landings, and various Civil War and locomotive artifacts.

As of Aug. 22, Miles's regalia had the second-highest vote count. Public polling ended Aug. 23 and the honorees will be announced Sept. 9.

For more information about The Virginia Association of Museums' programs or to cast a vote in the Virginia's Top 10 Endangered Artifacts program, visit http://www.vatop10artifacts.org.

For information about the Pamunkey Indian Tribe Museum, visit http://www.pamunkey.net/museum

McMillan can be reached by phone at 804-885-0042.