As part of WMRA’s partnership with StoryCorps in the Shenandoah Valley and Central Virginia, we’re sharing a conversation today between René White from the Lumbee Nation and Chris White, who traces his ancestry back to Cherokee, co-founders of the Native American Church of Virginia.
René White: When I got out of the military, I realized that my people will still suffering. So I felt a need to take off my military boots and put my moccasins back on. When I was young, going to school, what I was told was that my people were savages - that's what I grew up thinking about myself. Before we were discovered, millions of our indigenous people lived here and our land was free. It was free to us and it was free to everyone. But I think one thing that Americans don’t realize is that we are actually foreign nations within the United States. As I transition, my conversation over to my husband, just wanted to play a drum here for you just a little bit as I talked a little bit. There's an idea that circulated about peoplehood. And that’s why you can’t separate our Sovereign beings and our Sovereign freedom of our religion from us to Americanize us in the way that this government has been trying to do for a long time. So I'm going to transfer over now to my husband and he's going to tell you this story.
Chris White: My story is about being forced from my homeland under threat of imprisonment or a torturous death. I want to preface this by saying it that I'm not a victim, I'm a direct descendant of Peregrine White which was the first child born in New England on the Mayflower. And my mother’s side is Cherokee. So I thought I'm entitled – been here longer. So I started speaking out about Native American rights. I smoked marijuana. It was pretty open, there was an undercover cop who came to my house. He wanted to buy some cannabis. I said, well, I'll make you a trade or something. Well, when I got to the crossroads, every deputy and even the sheriff converged on me. The sheriff called me back and he told me if you don't get the F out of Fredrick County, we're going to burn you. And the second week of March, my name came out in the paper as being indicted for selling marijuana. Then I went with my father to the Sheriff's Department. Well, I let the sheriff have it. They didn’t arrest me. So, a little time goes by, and this time they came to where I was living. I turned myself in and I went to trial. Well they found me guilty, and they brought in a bag of cannabis and it looked like they had used that over and over again. The District Attorney suggested 40 years so I was out on thousand dollars bond. So I left, we went to Texas because it was supposed to be work in the oil fields down there. My (former) wife's family was in the process of moving out to Oregon. Nothing was going on for us, so we moved to Oregon with them. And I was out there for about two years living as a fugitive. The attitude of people if they know that you are wanted by the law or something like that, it's their duty to turn you in. After two years of that my wife left me. I got pulled over for a routine traffic stop. They found out that I was a fugitive and Virginia was coming after me with full force and I had nobody that would stand up for me. But I read in the Bible, where it says in the last days they'll put you in jail and on the tenth day you'll be let out. Well, that happened to me. I got out on the 10th day. So they looked into my case – there were a lot of iffys. And then drove back myself to Virginia to face these charges. I turn myself in - the good-old-boy attorney - once I got in his office, he called the District attorney and says, guess what I've got for you? I've got Chris White. And it's like, I've just been handed over to the devil. Anyway, the laws had changed. Instead of the penalty being five to forty, it was now one to five. The judge gave me the same thing. He gave me the maximum, he gave me five years because that's the most he could give me. In my trial, this is what they asked me: where you going to live? So I knew what my story was. I said, I've got a life in Oregon. So I got the five years. And got out and did parole in Oregon. I never saw a probation officer, they just never contacted me.