On behalf of International Women’s Day, I wanted to celebrate one of the most well known, unknown women in colonial and native American history. Pocahontas has always symbolized the idealistic cooperation between the “Indian” and the “white man.” Just as Thanksgiving is mythologized, so too is this woman. But she was a real person, and does indeed embody the female figure literally with her actual, physical womanhood: married to an Englishman and having mixed-race offspring, she represents the solidification through miscegenation of the old world to the new world. We know very little about her, and it is frustrating for those of us that have a fierce desire to give her a proper place based on facts in the Native American/indigenous lexicon.
She was a woman who was strong enough and capable enough to live and thrive among foreign kidnappers. We should see her as a survivor. Indeed, one could say a lot about the coercion that was likely involved in her marriage to John Rolfe. He refers to her as a “heathen” in some of his writings and, though so much of their life together is shrouded in mystery, it is not a stretch for one to be concerned about Pocahontas’s consent to a marriage to one of her captors.
This monument dedicated to the legend is located at the Jamestown Colony in Virginia’s Historic Triangle. Her presence there, based upon a vision of a united America that seems very distant right now, is also a reminder of what was taken as well as what was founded. Still, we should celebrate her not for her links to Europeans, but to her ties to the land she actually lived in and on. We must also remember her because she is a rare native female voice among so many males, and we should elevate any woman that deviates from the male-dominated history.
Lake Matoaka in Williamsburg, Virginia is named after her. (Pocahontas is said to be the nickname of the girl actually named Matoaka, but historians have given her many different nicknames over time.)