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"We are here to remember that the Brafferton began its life as a school for Native Americans – the first Americans," William & Mary President Taylor Reveley told the crowd. "This is an important moment in the life of this great building, which along with the Wren and the President’s House, make up our old or ancient campus."
Singers from the Haliwa Saponi Indian Tribe performed native honor songs as members of the William & Mary community participated in a traditional ceremony where tobacco leaves, representing wishes and blessings for the building and its heritage, were gathered in a cloth to be bundled and then later placed at the foundation of the Brafferton Indian School.
"This bundle will be placed at the foundation of the Brafferton Indian School to put a little bit of all of us back into the Brafferton," explained Buck Woodard, manager of the American Indian Initiative at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
The ceremony was held in advance of excavation planned for the site of the Brafferton as part of a renewal and preservation project announced by the College in May and set to begin this summer. Today the Brafferton contains two of the most important administrative offices on campus – the president’s and provost’s offices. The renewal project will replace worn out and outdated mechanical systems.
“This building, the second oldest on campus, is significant in the history of the College and just as importantly, in the history of Indian-white relations in colonial America,” said Kathleen Bragdon, chair of the department of anthropology. “The American Indian Resource Center - headed by Danielle Moretti-Langholtz and housed in our department - the American Indian Initiative, and the Department of Architectural and Archeological Research at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, now begin a cooperative effort to understand Brafferton’s significance through archeology and documentary and oral history.”
In addition, four Native American William & Mary alumni will serve as advisors to the department of anthropology through the newly formed Brafferton Legacy Group.
"The story of the Brafferton Indian School is often buried inside of other narratives, a narrative about the English Empire here in North America," said Buck Woodard, "We are hoping to rejoin members of the native community from a large area – east , west, north and south -and welcome native peoples back to the College of William & Mary," Woodard said.
The Brafferton Legacy Group is composed of members of Federal and State Indian tribes, whose communities have historical links to the eighteenth-century school - Ashley Adkins ‘09 (Pamunkey), Paige Archer ’78 (Meherrin), Annette Saunooke ’05 (Eastern Band of Cherokee) and Reginald Stewart ’86 (Chickahominy) .
"The Eastern Band Cherokee over the last decade have been really concerned with how we move into the future with our language and our culture," said Saunooke. "I believe the Legacy Group and the support that the College is giving now is a way to revitalize the Brafferton.
"You can fix the structure, but my hope is that William & Mary is revitalizing the mission of Brafferton which is to be that broker of relationships between native peoples and the College and to form relationships that move us into the future because I think that the native communities have a lot to offer the Brafferton and I think the Brafferton has a lot to offer the native communities."
Upwards of fifty federal, state and non-recognized tribes can claim heritage associated with the Brafferton Indian School at the College of William & Mary. Guests of the ceremony included tribal leaders and representatives from a dozen of these Indian groups. The crowd also included members of the Class of 1961 who made a generous gift to William & Mary in recognition of their 5oth Reunion, part of which will go to help fund the Brafferton renewal. The ceremony coincided with their 5oth Reunion Weekend.