Nansemonds excited for federal recognition

Published 10:04 pm Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Nansemond Indian Tribe is excited for the future after decades of uphill political turmoil finally led to results.

President Donald Trump on Monday signed the “Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2017” into law, according to a Monday press release from Virginia Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine.

The bill, which extends federal recognition to the Nansemond Indian Tribe and five other Virginia tribes, passed unanimously on Jan. 11 after Warner and Kaine forced a surprise vote after years of impasse on similar bills.

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The Nansemond, Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Upper Mattaponi, Rappahannock and Monacan tribes will receive federal recognition, allowing them to compete for educational programs and access affordable health care services for elder tribal members.

“Virginia’s tribes have loved and served this nation, and today our country is finally honoring them with the recognition they deserve,” Warner and Kaine stated in the press release.

Additionally, the tribes will be able to repatriate tribal artifacts and ancestors’ remains, many of which reside in the Smithsonian. Nansemond Indian Tribal Association Chief Ronald “Lee” Lockamy said the remains of roughly 60 tribal ancestors and various artifacts are held by the Smithsonian and the Virginia Department of Historical Resources.

While the tribe was previously unable to return the remains or artifacts, this new bill will make all the difference, Lockamy said.

The 2017 bill was sponsored by Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) and passed the House in 2017. The bipartisan effort goes back years to Congressional progress by former Virginia Sens. Jim Webb, a Democrat, and George Allen, a Republican.

There are more than 550 federally recognized Indian tribes, and the first Virginia tribe to be recognized by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs was the Pamunkey tribe in 2016.

The six Virginia tribes in the bill have about 6,000 members combined, and the Nansemond tribe currently has about 300 members. These tribes have had to fight discriminatory laws and other historical challenges.

One of those challenges was the Racial Integrity Act the Virginia legislature passed in 1924, which criminalized interracial marriage and required that every birth in the state be recorded by race as either “White” or “Colored.”

Supported by Walter Plecker, a physician, eugenicist and staunch white supremacist who ran Virginia’s Bureau of Vital Statistics for more than 30 years, the law essentially erased Indians on paper. Courthouse fires during the Civil War and other times further destroyed records that may have helped the tribes establish lineage.

Now federally recognized, the Nansemond tribe is focused on continuing to build upon Mattanock Town, the tribe’s authentic village located in Lone Star Lakes near Chuckatuck, Lockamy said.

“The city is working hand-in-hand with us,” he said. “We’re really happy with how it’s going. We just need to get these final obstacles out of the way.”

The Nansemond Indian Tribe will make an official announcement of the bill’s signing at 1 p.m. this Thursday at Mattanock Town, 1001 Pembroke Lane.