The Powhatan Renape Indians

by R. Cohen Ohlstein | Oct 19, 2015
The Powhatan Renape Indians The Powhatan are a branch of the Algonquin speaking Indians that populated the northeastern part of the United States at the time of colonization. Powhatan is an Algonquin word meaning "at the falls", describing the original lands of these people (ENAT, 198-200). At their peak, the Powhatan were members of a huge union of various bands, "The Powhatan Confederacy" based in what today would be the state of Virginia. The Powhatan are the signatories of the oldest treaty written in America by England dating back to 1646.

The Powhatan population suffered greatly for its contact with the early British settlers. Half their number were wiped out by disease before the year 1700. Even more would be lost to war between the English and the Powhatan, capture and "exporting" them to England as curiosities and still further ravages of new, alien diseases born by the English.

The Powhatan Renape (the word Renape means "human beings") that remain today, are a smattering of those various bands that once formed the great confederation: the Chickahominy, the Eastern Chickahominy, the Mattaponi, the Nansemond, the Pamunkey, the Potomac, the Rappahannah and the Upper Mattaponi.

In 1982, the state of New Jersey recognized the Powhatan Nation and ceded the Rancocas State Park to the Powhatan Renape, creating the Rankokas Reservation of the Powhatan Renape Nation. In addition to providing social services to the American Indian community in New Jersey, the goal of the folks at the Rankokas Reservation is to educate the non-Indian community about their traditional ways, beliefs, traditions, and culture. Sadly, the Powhatan Renape lost their home at the former Rankokus Reservation, now Rancocas State Park, and have relocated, and are continuing their traditions and cultural practices. According to their website, " We would still like to hear from you, the public, and continue to educate you and your children about Powhatan people and culture. Feel free to contact us at our new address or call us. Remember, even though we are not in Rankokus, we as Indigenous people are still here. Wanishi Tenabs." For information about how to help, their events and visiting the site, go to

The Powhatan Renape adopted a flag after recognition to fly over their returned land. On a white flag, the seven colors of the rainbow are represented in a circle, starting with red at the center and ending with violet on the outside edge. In the center of the rainbow is the "sacred tree," atop the back of a turtle. Rising from the "sacred tree" is a white eagle. The eagle's wing arch upward encircling a yellow and orange sun against a red backdrop.


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