Dr. Sheila K. Wilson Elliott

9/20/2019, 6 a.m.
Dr. Sheila K. Wilson Elliott spent her childhood in Suffolk, unaware of the significance of her heritage in the indigenous ...

Dr. Sheila K. Wilson Elliott spent her childhood in Suffolk, unaware of the significance of her heritage in the indigenous Nottoway Indian Tribe, learning at a time when “information about Indians was just not available to us in school, and we pretty much felt that we were extinct.” Today, the Nottoway are acknowledged historically as one of Virginia’s strongest indigenous tribes, with documents dating to 1609 showing the tribe’s presence in Virginia. And as the Nottoway prepare for their yearly powwow in Surry County, Dr. Elliott is excited at the opportunity to ensure that the long and rich history of the First Nation is shared, sustained and celebrated. “It’s a lot of work that goes into a powwow,” Dr. Elliott says, “but it’s well worth it because of the information and the education that we provide.” The amount of labor needed to maintain such an important culture and legacy would be taxing for some people, but it’s no problem for Dr. Elliott, who works as a clinical pharmacist specialist and serves as chair of the Virginia Nottoway Circle & Square Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the tribe. The foundation’s mission is to educate tribal citizens and residents of Southampton County and beyond about the role that the Nottoway played in history and continue to play today. Her term as chair runs through June. Asked how she manages these endeavors, Dr. Elliott points to a single motivating phrase: “If you want to get something done, find somebody who’s busy.” The foundation was started in 2007 by the Tribal Council of the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia, which has more than 180 members. “It provides a means of formal connection to our ancestors — those Nottoway Indians who were here at first contact,” Dr. Elliott says. “The tribe provides its citizens the opportunity to reclaim their identity in a way that can be traced back many hundreds of years.” Thanks in part to this storied legacy, the Nottoway tribe was formally recognized by the state in 2010. They are the only tribe to have completed the Virginia Council on Indians’recognition process, which took several years and initially ended in rejection. “Initially, we were not welcomed,” Dr. Elliott says. “But as time has passed, there is a better understanding of our history and historical significance in Virginia.” Dr. Elliott’s work with the foundation is furthering that understanding through various initiatives that include community outreach efforts, mobilizing Nottoway citizens and resource gathering through grant applications, with a specific focus on education, an area with obvious importance for the future of the Nottoway. “The kind of thing we are trying to get through to our young people is that native people do exist,” Dr. Elliott says. “First Nations people do exist. We are here.” She describes the annual powwow as “a reunion of sorts, a gathering and celebration of our history and heritage through prayer, dance, song and music. “During our powwows, we celebrate The Creator and Mother Earth from which we come,” Dr. Elliott continues. “A major component is the education we provide to children and adults through arts, crafts, demonstrations and re-enactments. We welcome the public to participate with us during our celebration. And we especially welcome our nation’s veterans for their service to our country.” Meet a First Nation advocate, leader and this week’s Personality, Dr. Sheila K. Wilson Elliott: