The first woman chief of the Monacan Indian nation, Sharon Bryant, an Episcopalian lay minister who had begun the journey towards priesthood, has died of cancer just after celebrating her 54th birthday.
The Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia announced her passing:
A lifelong resident of Amherst County, Bryant was elected chief in 2011.
During her tenure, she served as a strong advocate for the Monacan tribe and continuously pushed for federal recognition of the tribe’s indigenous status.
The paper had published a feature on Bryant recently, after she received her terminal diagnosis.
“You can make a change in the world by just dreaming and loving people and committing yourself to what you believe in,” Bryant said. “No matter what your background is or where you come from or what your struggles have been there’s always an opportunity to change.”
She spoke of her hopes for the Monacans:
“My people have paid such a high price to exist in this country and in the commonwealth of Virginia,” Bryant said earlier. “We’ve watched our villages and our burial grounds plowed under in the name of progress.
“And we’ve been disregarded as a people, and still we retained our sense of community, and I guess I want my legacy to be — if I could convince my people how important they are. Not just to me, but to the survival of our people and to the survival of this nation and this commonwealth. We did play a part in that. How unspoken it may be in the annals of history, we’re here.”
Bear Mountain in Amherst County has been the home of the Monacan people for more than 10,000 years. The earliest written histories of Virginia record that in 1607, the James River Monacan (along with their Mannahoac allies on the Rappahannock River) controlled the area between the Fall Line in Richmond and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The most western of Virginia’s eight tribes, the Monacan Nation – over 1,700 strong – preserves our past heritage and ancient customs, bringing together the Siouan language and culture.
See also: “First woman chief of Monacan Tribe has one mission: the betterment of her people,” Lynchburg News & Advance, March 2015.
Posted by Cara Ellen Modisett