Tears of joy streamed down Kimberley Lambert-Lyman’s face when she heard the news. On May 9th, 2007 a bill was unanimously passed to bring six previously unrecognized tribes into recognition.
“They (the tribes) have spent many years, and I have been alongside with them watching this journey for years and when I heard the news it was just tears of joy for their success,” says Lambert-Lyman.
The journey began back in the 1920s during one of the darkest eras in American history. In what became known as the “paper genocide” Virginia natives were forced to profile themselves as either “white” or “colored,” in effect, eliminating “Native American” as a race. This wiped out much of the historical documentation of these tribes, making it difficult to gain federal recognition.
The passing of this bill brings the Chickahominy, Chickahominy Eastern Division, Upper Mattaponi, Rappahannock, Monacan and Nansemond to the verge of federal recognition.
“I am very excited for them, and it’s been a long time coming for the first people of Virginia,” says Lambert-Lyman.
For someone who has dedicated a good portion of her career to advancing Native American recognition, this is especially great to hear.
Lambert-Lyman has been a filmmaker since her early years of college. While at school she was doing some research about her heritage and came to an alarming conclusion.
“What I found was there was little or nothing available regarding Indian history, as told by the Indian people…and I decided way back then that I wanted to do something about that.”
Since then Lambert-Lyman has been creating programming about Native tribes across the country. Much of her work is specifically designed for the classroom and even includes links for teachers to help structure lessons. The content of these programs result directly from feedback she receives from Native Americans across the country.
“The most important part of my job is to listen to what Native people say is important to them,” says Lambert-Lyman.
“The way I produce is to go in with an open mind and no preconceptions of how I’m going to do (a) show and I listen to the people. They tell me what’s important to them.”
This feedback has led to some long lasting and important relationships with Native Americans everywhere, including the Virginia tribes.
“I have a very large group of people now that are considered very close friends of mine. The reward is the journey and the friendships that are built as part of the process.”
Lambert-Lyman’s most recent work, Monacan Voices, includes traditional Native storytelling, poetry and conversation with the Monacan people.
“I like to embellish whatever it is that is happening that is important to the tribes,” says Lambert-Lyman.
“I see no end in sight regarding new and exciting stories that will come out of the Native people here in Virginia and across the country. There is a lot of history that is not included in the history books that really belongs there.”
Recent years have brought an outpouring of content from the Native point of view, partly thanks to Lambert-Lyman’s work.
“Native people are opening up and beginning to trust to tell their history. I think they understand that the responsibility lies with them to tell that history.”
The change is evident in news stories everywhere, and it is quickly gaining steam.
“The winds of change are upon us right now. There is a movement across this country to reclaim our heritage and our history as our own.”
by Zach Oliva