Interpreters at the encampment do not portray specific historic figures. They are 21st-century American Indians who offer a broad interpretation of Native American history and practices.
The new site allows Native Americans to demonstrate the types of craftsmanship their 18th-century forebears would have practiced. One afternoon, Saniga was making dress moccasins from a deer hide and decorating them with ribbons, glass beads, tin cones and metallic tape. The design was based on originals in Colonial Williamsburg’s collection. Chris Custalow, a Cherokee, was making colonoware, a type of hand-built, unglazed and undecorated earthenware made from local clays. Talon Silverhorn, a citizen of the Eastern Shawnee tribe of Oklahoma, was demonstrating techniques for making bows and arrows. By the late 18th century, bows and arrows were no longer weapons of war but were still used for hunting.
Though the goods made at the site demonstrate Native techniques and styles, they often incorporate European elements — as did much of what American Indians made in the late 18th century. The moccasins, for example, are made with silk ribbons. Composed of river clay mixed with shells or crushed pottery, the colonoware is formed and fired in a traditional fashion, but the resulting products are items that were popular among the English and the colonists, like cups, bowls and chamber pots.
Clothing, too, manifested both Native and European influences. Interpreters at the encampment routinely wear traditional leggings and breechcloth (strips of wool that go between the legs and over a belt) and blankets, but all are made of wool and other European-made fabrics, not furs or skins or other Native textiles. Custalow and Silverhorn sometimes wear gorgets around their necks. “Most traditional Shawnee gorgets are perfect circles,” Silverhorn said, “but the one I’m wearing is a crescent, which Europeans traditionally wore as armor.”
“Native fashion, like European fashion, changed over time,” said Saniga, who noted that Native Americans and Europeans had been in contact for many years and that many European ready-made goods were readily available.
Though the encampment has made it easier to demonstrate various aspects of their culture, Native Americans will continue to be seen all around town, just as they were in the 18th century. One new program will feature a Native trader whose horses will be loaded with goods. The trader will stop in front of various trade shops, further highlighting how American Indian and European cultures interacted.
Like the demonstrations and discussions at the encampment, new programs will reflect the extent to which American Indians were a part of daily life in 18th-century Williamsburg — a fact that is often surprising to Historic Area visitors. Saniga admits that’s frustrating. “But what’s most enjoyable and empowering about this job is having a stage where we can talk about our history,” he said.