SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Members of the Nansemond Indian Nation discussed the long year they’ve had during the COVID-19 pandemic and plans for their future with U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine on Monday.
Kaine hosted a roundtable with several tribal members at Mattanock Town as the first part of a six-day tour across southern Virginia to discuss the American Rescue Plan with various communities.
Chief Earl Bass, who was elected in November and sworn-in in January, says while all of their 407 members have felt the impacts of COVID-19, 20-25% actually contracted the disease.
Some members died, and some members’ spouses died.
“There have been significant challenges there,” said Kaine after their meeting. “They’ve been able to use some of the funds for funerals and those affected. It’s been a tough year but vaccines are coming, better resources to use for [personal protective equipment], and now I think we’re looking for the next chapter. We have to help this tribe and others as they’re developing plans for themselves and the community.”
Kaine, who was instrumental in getting Virginia tribes to be federally recognized in 2018, says he wanted to meet with the Nansemond Indian Nation two years after the recognition to see how things were progressing.
“This is a status report. How’s it going with federal agencies? Then, how are your future plans? The rescue plan we just passed has sizable resources for the Nansemond and our other Virginia tribes. How can we use this but often as the tribes invest, they’re helping the broader community. It was important to hear their priorities today,” said Kaine.
The nation’s top priority right now is getting people vaccinated. Bass says that their resources and funds last year all went to helping the community through providing PPE, food, or giving rides to appointments.
They’ve also worked recently to get members vaccinated as well as elderly people who are not members but live near the community.
“We need vaccines and we’ve been working hard with the state and Indian Health Services to get vaccines for members. That’s our number one priority right now to get vaccines,” he said.
Bass, who contracted COVID-19 back in the fall, says their membership numbers actually grew during the pandemic because people needed help and resources.
He says one member went into the hospital for a hip fracture, contracted COVID-19, and died.
“Another lady texted me saying ‘I have COVID. It feels like a sinus infection,” he said. “Five days later, she was dead.”
Bass says they had to use resources that would’ve gone to other plans such as infrastructure and cultural projects.
Kaine discussed with the group how the federal and state government has worked with them throughout the past two years to help provide what they need.
They’re working to improve the relationships but Bass says since they’re newly recognized, they do not have the same infrastructure such as a community center and paved roads that other federally recognized tribes have.
They’re hoping funds from the American Rescue Plan and President Joe Biden’s proposed infrastructure plan will help fund their projects.
“The next thing he [Kaine] could do is help us. We’re trying to capture and ensure our historical story is told,” Bass said.
The Nansemond Indian Nation says they’re working to do that through school education as well as getting the Great Dismal Swamp recognized as a National Heritage Area.
“We’re really passionate about the Great Dismal Swamp. They hunted fish and had to live in the swamp at times when they had to flee aggression,” Bass said.
Rep. Donald McEachin and Kaine reintroduced bills earlier this year to get the Great Dismal Swamp recognized as a National Heritage Area.
Kaine, who recalled the day Congress voted to federally recognize Virginia tribes as one of the happiest days of his life, says they would need to work to pass the Great Dismal Swamp bill just like they did for the recognition bill.