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Upper Mattaponi Tribe Chief honors past while keeping an eye on the future

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Posted at 2:32 PM, May 05, 2023

KING WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. — The distant past keeps Frank Adams moving forward. In King William County, his roots run deep.

“When I walk on the tribal lands, the property we have owned, I feel my ancestors are walking with me,” described Adams. “We don’t want to forget our heritage or our culture.”

Online sites like Ancestry help novice genealogists trace family history back decades to faraway countries.

Adams' ancestors have called these lands home for a millennium.

“We’ve been here thousands of years so,” he said.

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Adams grew up, worshipped, and was educated here.

“We’re standing in Sharon Indian School. My parents and grandparents and I went to this school,” he said. "It is a responsibility for all tribal leadership to keep our history alive.”

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The nearly 700 citizens of the tribe live across the Carolinas up to Pennsylvania.

But the heart of Upper Mattaponi remains in the Commonwealth, where life hasn’t always been kind to Native Americans.

“It was tough. There was a lot of racism in Virginia. A lot of our people moved out of Virginia,” Adams explained.

Wilma “Red Sky” Hicks's late mom, Mariah, hid her Indian identity for decades. Never fully embracing her heritage till late in life.

“My mother was of the generation where it wasn’t popular to be Indian,” said Hicks.

Hicks said in the 21st century, attitudes have been shifting.

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The tribe’s enrollment officer said more people are registering to become official tribal citizens.

“I love it when I hand someone their ID card and just get this smile on their face like finally. Finally. Someone recognizes I am here,” said Hicks.

Their elected leader, Chief Adams swells with happiness knowing his tribe is growing.

“The culture is our people,” said Adams. “And we don’t want to lose our culture.”

Before taking the reigns full-time as chief, the 69-year-old operated historic Glenwood which was Richmond’s oldest golf course.

“I feel like I was lucky to have had the opportunity to own the golf course,” said Adams.

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Until he sold the links last year, golf was his profession.

“I worked there 50 years. Absolutely missed the golf course. I miss the people,” said Adams.

Guiding the Upper Mattaponi Tribe is now his passion.

“I try to do as much things for good for the people,” he said.

Five years ago, his tribe was granted federal recognition.

“So we designed this building here that looks like a long house. A native long house,” said Adams.

Frank “Little Buck” Adams envisions a thriving village and housing for citizens on the tribe’s roughly 500 acres.

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“I think we’ll build these cluster homes first because there is a great need of people trying to move back to this area,” said Adams.

Cousins Wilma Hicks and Chief Frank Adams cherish their Native American bloodline and on the lands the tribe owns.

“Yes, I remember when this land was purchased by our tribal elders,” said Hicks.

That dignity will be on full display this month at their annual pow-wow.

“We put it in trust so we can preserve it forever,” said Adams.

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These family members are determined to keep their tribe flourishing while always giving a nod to their ancient past.

“This area where we are sitting here is home. It will always be home,” said Hicks. “We just want to make sure people know we are here and we’ve always been here. And we’re going to continue to be here. And take pride in who we are.”

If you would like to learn more about the culture and heritage of the Upper Mattaponi Tribe in King William County, you can attend their annual pow-wow during Memorial Day Weekend, May 27 and May 28 at 13476 King William Road in King William.

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