Helen Clark Rountree

In 1968, when Helen Rountree began teaching at Old Dominion to be near her aging parents, she did not realize there were Indian tribes still in Virginia, though she had studied Indians elsewhere.

Today, Rountree, professor emeritus of anthropology, is widely acknowledged as the leading researcher and writer on Virginia Indians and one of the leading researchers on East Coast tribes. Her sensitivity to the feelings of her research subjects gained her their trust and even gratitude. She became an honorary member of the Nansemond and Upper Mattaponi tribes.

Rountree helped individual Indians in genealogical studies and assisted tribes in gaining official recognition. In her many books, she took pains to present a complete and fair picture of Indian culture.

When Disney Studios was making its animated hit “Pocahontas,” it turned for help to Rountree, who had written the first book on the powerful Powhatan tribe. She would discover, however, that the studio was more interested in entertainment than history. After the movie’s release in 1995, she tried in countless newspaper interviews to set the record straight, noting that Pocahontas was no “Buckskin Barbie,” as one reporter wrote, but a short, bald and naked 11-year-old laborer.

Since retiring in 1999, Rountree has continued to conduct research and give lectures.


Quest Fall 2005 • Volume 8 Issue 2