Monacan Nation

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Official seal of the Monacan Indian Nation.

The Monacan Indian Nation of Amherst County, the members of whom are referred to as Monacans, is a Siouan-speaking Indian tribe in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Europeans first described the Monacan people in the 1500s.[1] Most of the published information about Monacan people before modern times was based on European and later American documentation.[1] The Monacans were labeled on early European maps of Virginia such as those of Captain John Smith in 1624 and John Lederer in 1671.[2]

In the late 17th century, the members of the tribe were forced to flee their ancestral lands (including their capital of Rassawek and the nearby village of Monasukapanough) in the face of increasing encroachments by English settlers. While some members of the tribe migrated north to Pennsylvania and later Canada, merging with the native villages in those parts, a great portion of them gradually settled around the site of Oronoco in modern-day Amherst County, where they became known as the Bear Mountain community. Here, on a small settlement owned by a sympathetic white family and consisting of a few wooden structures dominated by a church, the Monacans maintained their traditions and passed them onto the next generations, with all youth being taught about the tribe's culture from the community’s solitary log cabin schoolhouse (a task made more difficult by the fact that the children had to walk over five miles to the building and back every day).[3]

Monacan youth posing outside the Bear Mountain Indian Mission School, c. 1914. Photo by Jackson Davis.

In 1989 the tribe received recognition as an Indian tribe within the Commonwealth of Virginia, with federal recognition later being granted alongside five other tribes in January of 2018.[1][4] To reach that point, the Monacans had begun to document their own history and tell their own stories.[1] After obtaining government recognition, there has been more interest in recording stories from the Monacan people themselves regarding their history, society, and culture.[1]

Since 1995, the Monacans have organized to establish ongoing community programs, develop their leadership in governance, and revive cultural traditions.[5] The 1999 membership records counted 1000 members. The people placed a granite monument in their ancestral cemetery to commemorate members' families.[5]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Book. Monacan Millennium, Jeffrey L. Hantman, University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville
  2. Web. Rassawek, Virginia Places
  3. Web. Our History, Monacan Indian Nation
  4. Web. Monacan Indian Nation Celebrates Federal Recognition, WDBJ, 01/30/2018
  5. 5.0 5.1 Web. Monacan Indians: Our Story, Office of Historical Research, Monacan Indian Nation, 1999