‘Celebrate our differences’: Virginia’s Native Americans continue 341-year tax tribute

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RICHMOND, Va. — Native Americans honored a nearly 350-year-old peace treaty Wednesday at the Capitol.

The Mattaponi and Pamunkey tribes presented a tax tribute of two deer to Governor Ralph Northam, following the agreement between the tribes and leaders of the then Virginia Corporation.

With two deer laying before the Executive Mansion, Gov. Northam joked that these prize bucks were “much larger this year than they were for Gov. McAuliffe.”

The Treaty of Middle Plantation was signed in 1677, giving tribes rights to their lands as well as protection from the state with a tribute instead of monetary taxes.

“As we all know, the United States Government and its state governments have not always held up their end of their contracts with tribal governments,” Gov. Northam said. “It is of utmost importance to me that the Commonwealth upholds their end of the contract and that we maintain friendly relationships with these two tribes.”

While the form of the tribute has changed from beaver pelts to deer, 341 years later the ceremony shows the connection between the tribes and the Commonwealth.

“Virginia is stronger and greater when we celebrate and welcome our differences,” the Governor added.

There are 11 recognized tribes in Virginia. Chief Mark Custalow of the Mattaponi Tribe and Chief Robert Gray of the Pamunkey Tribe both said they felt honored to keep up this tradition among their people. Gifts were shared from both tribes with the Northam’s as well as dances and songs.

“We continue this tradition… as we honor our people who have gone before us and who have done this,” Chief Custalow said.

While these traditions still continue, there are new developments with the Pamunkey community.

The tribe is considering whether to build a $700 million resort and casino in Virginia. While the tribe wouldn’t be taxed on the project, Chief Gray says they would work with the state.

“We can work with the state in other ways to help alleviate the cost that the state and locality shares as a burden on a venture like that,” Chief Gray said.

As previously reported, the Pamunkey Tribe also estimates the resort would create 4,000 full-time jobs.

Chief Gray says this project would bring economic development to the Pamunkey people so they wouldn’t have to rely heavily on funding from the federal government for programs.

Right now, they are still trying to find a location for the resort.

“We’re working with the state. Finding a locality that we want to work with that welcomes us, that’s been a major deal. We only want to go where we’re welcome,” Chief Gray said.

“When we have all that together at the state level, then we approach the federal government and request the land into trust.”

There were talks about putting it in New Kent County. During a public meeting held with county supervisors, some residents expressed criticism of a casino saying it could bring crime to the area.

The project is still years away. Chief Gray says within the next few months, tribal leaders hope to find a suitable location and locality to work with.

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