SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — November is Native American Heritage Month.

According to the U.S. Census, Native Americans make up about 2.5% of the U.S. population.

However, centuries ago, before settlers arrived, American Indians thrived in what’s now called America.

In Hampton Roads, the biggest tribe is the Nansemond.

“Nansemond means fishing point,” said Chief Emeritus Sam Bass.

Nansemond Indian Nation ancestors spent centuries living on both sides of the Nansemond River.

“The river name Nansemond was actually named after the Nansemond tribe, not the other way around,” Bass said. “We traveled utilizing the river. We fed ourselves, fishing, eating what the river would produce.”

Bass is thankful every day for the contributions of his ancestors.

“We’re quite honored to actually have the river and be on the shore of the river that our ancestors 400 years ago had no idea that we would be here 400 years later. So our thinking is we want to be here 400 years from now,” he said.

In the United States, there are 574 federally recognized Indian Nations.

In Virginia, there are 11 recognized tribes.

Seven are federally recognized, including Nansemond.

Bass said Nansemond has 400 tribal members. Many members live in Suffolk and Chesapeake.

“50 years ago it was not it wasn’t an open thing to admit that you’re a Native American. I have a father and a grandfather. Who yes, I knew we were Native American but it wasn’t something they openly expressed because of what society how they made you feel,” Bass said.

Looking back on history, Bass acknowledges that Native Americans have experienced pain and persecution throughout time.

“There was a time when there was no boundaries and when the English Spaniards came they did not come to sing ‘kum bah ya’ around the campfire,” he said.

In the 1600s, the English came to Nansemond land.

“We believe at first the human right thing to do was hold out a hand to help the colonists. Who needed help providing their own food and sustaining themselves. We feel that our ancestors did all they could to teach them and help them in those areas,” Bass said.

He said Nansemond stored their food on Dumpling Island in Suffolk.

“We feel the colonists came and got hungry and were starving,” Bass said. “So the colonists end up going to that island and raiding and taking the food so that’s how the skirmish started.”

The conflict displaced the tribe from their homeland.

Bass says despite the past, he looks toward the future.

“Not holding hostile feelings. Having hostile feelings because of mistreatment in the past but to pick yourself up and keep on going. Those bad things don’t identify the Native American from generation to generation,” he said.

That mindset keeps him motivated as a former tribal leader and community educator.

He continues to pay tribute to his culture and hopes all Americans can appreciate Native heritage

“I would like for people to recognize that first of all, it’s an honor to be a Native American and to have been here. Have had ancestors here 400 years ago that were originally walking this land, hunting this land, fishing the rivers and lakes and ponds and having no encroachment, no boundary,” he said.