Manataka American Indian Council




Who is Mary Laughing Dove?

by Helen Red Wing Vinson


My sister, Mary Laughing Dove was the thirteenth child born to Reverend and Mrs. Bernard Belvin of Huntington West Virginia who were former natives of Bear Mountain, Virginia.   When little Mary Laughing Dove was born in 1951, I was fourteen and our eldest sister, Ella was sixteen.  Before Mom and Laughing Dove came home from the hospital, we used an old basinet and lace curtains to make a beautiful place for the new baby to sleep. 

Laughing Dove was sickly at birth as mother's milk did not agree with her and soon she was losing weight.  Old Doc Morrison came to the house and told Mom to buy whole milk, remove all the cream the first four days and half the cream for a week, then give her whole milk from then on.  I helped fix the formula and little Mary thrived on it.

Soon Mary Laughing Dove was crying a lot and there was no sleep for anyone.  Old Doc Morrison was called again.  Mary had an ear infection.  We did all that the doctor told us to do and it helped, but little did we know that our little sister was to be plagued with ear infections most of her life.

Our parents unofficially adopted three of my children and three of my sister Alice's children.  Dad believed his daughters needed help in raising their children and should not be forced to raise them alone.  Mary Laughing Dove helped in many wonderful ways in caring for all these children and stayed in the old home place caring for our parents until they both walked on.   There is no way we could ever repay Mary Laughing Dove for the unselfish giving of herself during those years. 

Mary naturally inherited the old home place where our brother, Harry Black Eagle resides today. 

Mary was employed by State Electric, the local civic center and worked a time for Harry in his package delivery service.  She was also a night auditor at the old Up Towner Inn where she met her husband- to-be, Arlan (Al) Wade after the motel became the Holiday Inn. 

Al was a project manger for an ATM installation contractor and traveled a great deal.  After Mary Laughing Dove and Al married, they moved to Huntington in the Rose Garden of the Ritter Park in Virginia. Later they moved to Richmond where she became a receptionist for a law firm and Al quit traveling.  

It was during this time that our family took an interest in genealogy.  It was rumored for many years that our mother's family was Cherokee, but there was no proof.  Because Mary still lived in Virginia, I kept insisting that she research Mom's family.   She finally located a lost relative, Uncle Percy in Baltimore, Maryland,  Mary and our sister Pansy drove up to meet him.  While there they made three more important discoveries.   First, they found our mother's Aunt Pearl and Uncle Percy living only a few miles away.  Next, they found another lost relative, Aunt Kathleen in Eagle Rock, Virginia.   And the last find was an important book entitled "Indian Island, Amherst County Indians" by Dr. Peter Houck.  

In the book, Mary and Pansy discovered that our family was not Cherokee, but descended from the one of the first nations, the Monacan, a Siouxian language group tribe who had lived in the area now called Virginia for over 10,000 years. 

Mary Laughing Dove and Pansy immediately went to visit Aunt Kathleen and toured nearby Bear Mountain, the ancestral home of the Monacan Nation.  While in the area absorbing the ancient past, they decided to drive to Lynchburg and purchase their own copy of Dr. Houck's book at the Warwick House.

It was not long after my sisters returned home that Mary found out about the Virginia Indian Council that met across the street from the law firm at the Capitol Building where she worked.  Mary Laughing Dove attended a meeting and met the great and honorable Thomasina Jordan, then chair of the Virginia Indian Council (VIC).

To her surprise, a few days later she received a telephone from Mrs. Jordan asking Mary to accept the position of secretary of the organization.  Without hesitation, she accepted the appointment with honor and humility and joined VIC with all her heart and spirit. 

Under the guidance and leadership of Mrs. Jordan, Mary took up the fight for federal recognition for the tribes remaining in Virginia with great enthusiasm.  Laughing Dove remained secretary of VIC when its chairmanship went to Reba Tilly.  Later, Mary became the founder and president of a new organization called the Virginia Tribal Alliance for Life (VITAL) whose purpose was to fulfill the dream of Thomasina Jordan to gain federal recognition for all tribes in Virginia.  

By this time, Mary was working in the Land Title office and at the same time carried on a relentless campaign to achieve the primary goal.  She worked day and night and rested very little as she made hundreds of telephone calls, wrote letters, attended meetings and went on lobbying trips to Washington, D.C.   While in Washington, Laughing Dove met with dozens of politicians and even once met with President George Bush, Sr.  She fought a good fight and kept faith that the goals of the Virginia tribes would finally be realized.  

I kept in touch with Mary Laughing Dove Wade often during these hectic and long days of fighting for what she knew was a good.  She was building a bridge of hope as she traveled relentlessly, night and day, between political meetings, powwows, and other functions - never asking for anything for herself - only for recognition of her people.


The Falling Picture

In the early spring of 2003 Mary Laughing Dove was working long hours on an upcoming VITAL powwow.  One Thursday night she came home late and made a few telephone calls before falling asleep on the sofa.  Her husband Al came home sometime later and woke up his wife and they sat and talked for a while before going to bed.

The next morning Mary Laughing Dove Wade walked on.

It was the morning of April 18, 2003, Good Friday, as I was rummaging around in a closet and a magazine started to fall to the floor.  I said, "Oh, you can not fall to the floor" as quickly elbowed the picture back to the shelf.  I remembered Mom used to say if a picture falls to the floor it is a sign of death.  

A couple of hours later my sister Pansy called and asked if I was sitting down.  I knew then that someone close was gone.   Then she said Mary has gone.  "Gone where?," I said.  "To heaven I hope, replied Pansy. 

I begin screaming and crying.  There was no family here so I called my friend Judy at her work place.   Judy called my husband, Ed at work and another friend with the Native American Indian Association of Memphis came to be with me.  It was then I realized Mary passed at the exact time the magazine with her picture inside tried to fall.


The Legacy of Mary Laughing Dove Wade

My beautiful sister and friend was gone.  We did not have a chance to say goodbye.  Her last words to me were in a instant message on our computer screen.  "I love you guys.  Take care and tell Ed 'hello darling' - this is how he greeted her in  instant messages on line.


Mary spoke to me several times during the previous two years about her death.  She never spoke to her husband about her concern about death and I thought it was just idle talk.  She once told me that I was to have the necklace Thomasina Jordan gifted her because I would respect its meaning. 


Helen Red Wing Vinson



Letter from Sen. George Allen to Al Wade (PDF)

House Joint Resolution NO. 210 Celebrating the life of Mary B. Wade (PDF)


In Memory of

Mary Laughing Dove Wade


Mary, a blood-member of the Monacan Indian Nation, located on Bear Mountain in Amherst, Virginia, walked on April 18, 2003.


Mary’s seemingly endless source of energy has been called on many times on behalf of the Indian people of Virginia.  Mary served two three-year terms as the Monacan representative to the Virginia Council on Indians (VCI), the state agency which deals with matters of concern to Virginia’s Indian residents.


Mary served in various capacities on the VCI, including the Virginia Department of Corrections as a member of the Committee on Religious Rights of Indian Inmates.  She was also a member of the Virginia Cultural Network, participating in planning for the Jamestown 2007 Commemoration.


As a member of VCI, Mary was a protégé of the late Thomasina Jordan, Chair of the VCI and an ardent activist for Indian rights.  With the support and encouragement of Thomasina, Mary became active in the legislative process, testifying at many General Assembly committee hearings on VCI-sponsored legislation.  Some of the legislation which Mary was instrumental in getting passed included: sale and possession of animal parts for Virginia’s Indian residents use in ceremonies and regalia; re-instatement of the Virginia Tribes’ treaty rights to hunt and fish without a license; and design and introduction of a license plate to commemorate Virginia’s Indian heritage.


In 1999, Mary became active in the quest for Federal Government recognition of the Virginia Tribes.  That year, a resolution was introduced in the General Assembly requesting the United States Congress to grant Federal recognition to Virginia’s Indian Tribes.  Following passage of this resolution, Mary scheduled meetings with Congressmen in Washington D.C. and assisted with drafting the initial legislation in the House of Representatives.


When the Tribes realized the need for an independent organization to work towards Federal recognition, Mary was the focal point in incorporating the Virginia Indian Tribal Alliance for Life (VITAL) served as its founding president.  She also helped set policy and direction for the organization, was active in its fundraising activities and acted as the liaison between the Tribes and the lobbyist.


Mary also served as the Monacan Nation representative to The United Indians of Virginia, a non-profit organization of the Virginia Tribes.  Al Wade, her husband of 22 years, encouraged and supported her work with her people.  He shares her dream of federal recognition for the Virginia tribes.


[Editor's Note:  In January 2005, the family was notified by Virginia Council on Indians in the Virginia governor's office that the Virginia Foundation for Women ( ) will honor Mary Laughing Dove Wade as one of eight women recognized as Woman of the Year 2004.]


[Editor's Note:  In May, 2004, Senator George Allen (VA), introduced a bill in the United States Senate (S.1423) to extend federal recognition to six Virginia Indian tribes.  A similar bill (H.R.1938) was introduced by Representative James P. Moran in the U.S. Legislature.]



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