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Once Upon a Screen: Episode 3

Join Reagan Young as she talks about the story behind Disney’s “Pocahontas.”

TRIGGER WARNINGS: Mentions of rape, sexual assault, and murder.

On June 16, 1995, children eagerly held their parents’ hands as they stride quickly towards the cinema to see the retelling of the story of Pocahontas, which perfectly premiered on her 400th birthday. 

Reeling in $2.7 million during its first weekend and being released on VHS a little under a year later, Pocahontas was designed to be a romantic story between a young Native American girl and an English settler whose love instills peace between their two worlds. Although it was viewed as harmless in the ‘90s, the true and tragic story of Pocahontas is finally being revealed, starting with her name. 

Unlike other stories I have uncovered from lovable Disney classics, Pocahontas is the only one that is raw and real; not a fable or fairytale. And unlike my other articles, this one is not for entertainment. This is to bring her heartbreaking story to light: the story of a young girl who was brutally assaulted, kidnapped, and possibly murdered. 

First things first, her name was not Pocahontas. Although it was a nickname given to her as a child, meaning playful one, her real name was Matoaka, which she will be rightly referred to as for the rest of the article. She was one of the first real Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. 

Matoaka was the favorite daughter of Wahunsenaca, Chief Powhatan, and was born into the Powhatan Chiefdom, with a population of about 25,000 and more than 30 Algonquian-speaking tribes with their own werowance, or chief. 

Unfortunately for Matoaka and her tribe, they were located near the area that early English settlers would soon claim for themselves, named Jamestown, Virginia. Disney made Matoaka seem much older than she was when the settlers arrived, including John Smith, the settler with whom Disney made her romantically involved.

In reality, Matoaka was about nine or 10 years old when they arrived, and John Smith was somewhere around the age of 27. Despite Disney’s narrative, the pair were never romantically involved. John Smith was feared by tribes, as he was known to intrude on random villages, to hold the chiefs at gunpoint and to demand supplies and food. 

When the colonizers arrived, women and young girls were made targets, and many were sexually assaulted or raped by the men. Since Matoaka was the chief’s daughter, the Englishmen planned to kidnap her, hoping it would stop the attacks from the indigenous tribes.

Sadly, this became a reality, and she was kidnapped from her home and forced to give up her first child. Her husband, Kocoum, had been murdered trying to protect her. Captain Samuel Argall threatened that if the Chief did not relent, he would attack his village and take Matoaka permanently. 

Despite the Chief giving in to his orders, Argall broke his promise, and Matoaka was sent off to England. The colonizers gave the chief a pot of copper, claiming they had traded it for Matoaka. Before leaving her village, Matoaka had to give her newborn baby to the women of the village and was forced to never see her child or tribe again. 

During Matoaka’s time in England, she was raped and abused by her English captors and gave birth to a son named Thomas. She was also renamed Rebecca and forcibly converted to Christianity. 

Unfortunately, Matoaka died in England before she had even reached the age of 21. She was buried in a church at Gravesend, England, miles upon miles away from her home and her loved ones. 

There is no good way to end this. No happy ending, no just kidding, none of this ever actually happened! This is the true story of a beautiful young woman, not even a grown adult, whose tragic tale was turned into a romantic children’s movie as a source of entertainment.

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About the Contributor
Reagan Young
Reagan Young, Staff Writer
Reagan Young is a first-year staffer on The Voice. Outside of the newspaper, Reagan loves to perform with her marching band, theater friends, and have movie nights with her parents! She also loves to play with her dogs, eat amazing food, and journal in her free time.

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