Friday Speak Out!: Integrating Native Americans in Historical Fiction

Friday, August 23, 2019
by Pam Webber
Victoria Last Walker Ferguson

Stories involving Native Americans are compelling to read. After all, they are the original Americans. The rest of us are simply descendants of diverse settlers. Native American tribes are also diverse. Not only in where they live but how they live and what they believe. Writing about their unique cultures is often dependent on historical interpretations. That is unless you happen to find the real thing.

The Real Thing

While doing research for my latest novel, Moon Water, I met a special Native American, Victoria Last Walker Ferguson. Vicky is a member of the Monacan tribe, which is native to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Central Virginia. She is the Monacan Life Interpreter at the Monacan Village in Natural Bridge.

Vicky’s job is to help visitors understand Monocan life as it existed 300 years ago. She lives as they did, wears their clothes, and follows their day to day routines. She practices their ancient rituals and follows their traditions. Vicky's interactions with the natural world are amazing. She intuitively knows what animal life will surround her and when and where they’ll make an appearance She moves through the woods harvesting edible and medicinal plants with ease. And when sitting to rest, her hands are busy weaving baskets and rope.

Vicky doesn’t live on the Earth. She lives in it.

Vicky is also an exceptional oral historian. Her insight into the state-sponsored discrimination that devastated the Monacans in the early 1900s is powerful. The tribe worked diligently to reverse the racial integrity laws of that period. In 2018, they finally received federal recognition as Native Americans, which ensured their rightful place in US history.

Writing About Native Americans

Thanks to Vicky, I was able to create realistic Monacan characters for Moon Water. One character is Nibi, a Monacan medicine woman who has ability to see the unseen and know the unknown. Not surprising, much of Nibi is modeled after Vicky. That’s not to say Vicky has these surreal abilities, but she certainly sees life and nature with a clarity most of us do not possess.

When writing about a culture other than your own it’s not hard to find facts, figures, and descriptions in a library or online. However, if you want to understand the culture enough to create believable characters, take the time to find someone who carries the DNA. Someone who lives the life. Your search will be worth it.

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Pam Webber’s debut Southern historical novel The Wiregrass became a bestseller. Her second novel, Moon Water, releases this month. Visit Pam at
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Unknown said...

First person experience cannot be beat. Moon Water is enriched by Pam Webber's ability to take the wisdom of her muse and translate it into a solid story line.

Pam said...

Dear Unknown, You are so right. First person experiences always give us multidimensional insight. Best, Pam

Beverley Baird said...

Looking forward to reading your new novel.

Stephanie Barko said...

WOW Writers - Library Thing is offering free ebooks of Moon Water right now. Enter to win through September 20, 2019 at

Pam Webber, Author said...

Hey Bevery Baird,
Hope you enjoy reading Moon Water: A Novel(-:

Lenore Gay said...

A fascinating article. This is surely what historical fiction writing needs - someone who can help the writer go deeper.Good character development is vital for a fine book.

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