Nansemond Indian Nation to celebrate long-awaited federal recognition at 30th pow wow


SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The Nansemond Indian Nation will celebrate a significant moment at its 30th annual pow wow this weekend. 

This year is special for the tribe, based out of Suffolk, because it’s the first time they’ll celebrate being federally recognized.

“We had almost lost our enthusiasm it was going to happen,” said Sam Bass, the tribe’s assistant chief.

Bass says they worked for decades to make this possible.

The tribe has been recognized by the state for 33 years.

President Donald Trump signed the bill into law earlier this year, also recognizing five other tribes in the state.

Bass says it was the hard work of the tribes and politicians who made it possible.

“We were very joyous about it, appreciative that it’s finally done. Now, the job starts with us being a nation,” he said.

The tribe will have to form its own government so it can access federal resources.

It’s also working to open a museum on the land at Mattanock Town in Suffolk and become a tourist attraction.

It already has hiking trails and long houses that will be available for Pow Wow visitors this weekend.

“There were many centuries where people were afraid to be openly Native American and express their identity. I feel proud to have the freedom to express my identity and I consider it a responsibility to share that with other people and to help people give voices to their ancestors who were silenced due to historical circumstances,” said Nikki Bass, who is on the tribe’s council.

Bass is from Baltimore, but grew up knowing about her roots here in Hampton Roads.

She says their ancestry traces back to 1608 when English colonists made the first documented contact with the Nansemond.

“Our people were living throughout the Nansemond River and settlements, not just here but southeast Virginia, through the Great Dismal Swamp,” she said.

Bass says around 300 people are members of the tribe and this weekend’s theme is “Kinship Beyond Borders” because many live out of state.

That also includes Tom Badamo, who is from New York.

Badamo serves on the council and is also the tribe’s genealogist who verifies applications.

He says he first started tracing his roots after visiting Jamestown and seeing a familial resemblance on photos.

He eventually even found out that his great grandmother’s photo is hanging up in one of the Smithsonian museums.

“You could’ve knocked me over with a feather,” he said after finding out.

Badamo officially got involved with the Nansemond Indian Nation five years ago.

“I didn’t feel outcast in the community I grew up in but I didn’t feel at home as I do with these people,” he said.

And that’s what the tribe wants its members and the community to feel this weekend.

“We are a proud people. We do exist. We exist to share our heritage with the citizens of this community and any other to welcome them,” Assistant Chief Bass says.

The event is Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Mattanock Town.

The location is 1001 Pembroke Lane, Suffolk, Virginia.

It is free to attend and park.

There will be dances, historical presentations, crafts and food.

For more information, visit

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