On a warm Friday afternoon, we drove all the way down Jamestown Road until we arrived at Jamestown Island. The water was glimmering in the sun, and the clouds were voluminous. Margaret and her dad are in a cloud appreciation society, so she stopped to take a photo of the clouds to pass along to him.
We planned to drive around the 5-mile loop, getting out to look at the signs and any wildlife we saw. Once we drove up to the entrance, however, we found that the road had been closed to vehicles because it was turtle hatching season!
We parked and began to walk on the asphalt-paved road, a clear sign of the infringement of modernization on nature, in the fresh air. We excitedly noted the different types of trees: birch, oak, holly, pine. We sniffed the air to try to see if we could smell anything in particular; Matt smelled some pine trees. Yousuf wanted to spot a turtle, but we unfortunately did not. We did, however, see and hear birds, squirrels, and insects. Genevieve used her birding skills and binoculars to look for cardinals.
Additionally, we read each of the signs we walked by. The dominant narrative of the park comes from its 3 and 5 mile loops, where visitors can (usually) drive, cycle, or walk to appreciate the nature. It is not a museum with artifacts or actors; instead the focus is on the nature and the signage. Speaking of signage, let’s take a look at what we saw:
The sign above discusses a settler’s property that is rich with colonial history. Notice how they call him “one of our great western explorers,” which gives you an idea of the viewpoints of the people who are in charge of managing Jamestown Island. They are placing settlers in a positive light and not acknowledging the displacement that occurred for these settlers to live here, thus silencing the stories of the original inhabitants of the land, the Powhatan.
The above sign describes the types of plants that would have been on Jamestown Island in colonial times and what they were used for, which shows that Jamestown Island seeks to promote environmental as well as historical education in their signs. The sign does subtly mention Indigenous peoples in the very last sentence: “Undoubtedly, Virginia Indians taught colonists how to use some of these native plants.” This is a weak attempt at acknowledging the role of Indigenous peoples in helping colonists survive on this new land, as they had a deep knowledge of their land and its wildlife. Without this knowledge, the colonists would not have survived. Furthermore, the fact that the only mention of Indigenous peoples is in the context of how they helped the colonists is telling of the way they are viewed in history as resources for the colonists, but not worthy enough to be allowed to stay on their own land. We were not surprised, but we were disappointed that the signage at Jamestown Island reflects these harmful ideas in 2022.
We did not see too much resistance to the effects of settler colonialism and the erasure of Indigenous peoples at Jamestown Island. However, we believe that with increased education and awareness through classes like ours, visitors can better identify problems with the signage and advocate for changes that would actually educate the public, rather than telling a white-washed history of the Island. It is imperative that Indigenous individuals are consulted when these changes are made.
Overall, this was an enlightening experience, and our group had great discussions on our walk about conservation, land acknowledgment, tourism, and settler colonialism.