After recognition, real work begins

Published 5:53 pm Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Nansemond Indian Tribe is officially recognized by the federal government, but that doesn’t mean the tribe’s work is over.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Chief Lee Lockamy said at a Thursday press conference at the tribe’s Mattanock Town property, where about 20 tribal members and supporters were in attendance.

On Monday, President Donald Trump signed the “Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2017.” It extends federal recognition to the Nansemond, Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Upper Mattaponi, Rappahannock and Monacan tribes.

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It passed the Senate on Jan. 11 after Virginia’s two Democratic senators, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, forced a voice vote after years of impasse on similar bills. It had already passed the House of Representatives last year.

“This is a day I never thought I’d see,” Lockamy said Thursday.

The first order of business is for representatives of the six tribes to meet with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to learn how business will be conducted. The bureau already manages affairs between the federal government and more than 560 tribes throughout the country.

Lockamy said the tribe also hopes to meet with Suffolk city officials soon to secure its rights to the land. An agreement signed in 2013 has a five-year clause, up in August of this year, that allows the city to re-take the land if it does not feel the tribe has lived up to its part of the agreement.

Assistant Chief Sam Bass said Thursday that he feels the city will be amenable to the things the tribe wants to do.

The Mattanock Town village, set on more than 70 acres in Chuckatuck, already contains authentically constructed yehawkins — the Algonquin word for house or dwelling — as well as walking trails and more.

“We want to show the beauty of the land and how our people lived at contact, in 1607,” Lockamy said.

The federal recognition will also make it easier for the tribe to access grants that can help it develop Mattanock Town.

The land on which Mattanock Town sits is part of the tribe’s native land, and several sites within one-eighth of a mile along the river in both directions are also documented Nansemond sites, Lockamy said.

In a statement, Lockamy gave thanks to many for the goal of federal recognition coming to fruition.

“First, we would like to thank the Creator for giving us vision, strength and enduring resolve to claim our place in history as a federally recognized Indian tribe,” he said. “We want to give thanks to our ancestors who came before us and paved the way that has made our tribe the success it is today.”

Lockamy also thanked the other tribes recognized, who had bonded together in the Virginia Indian Tribal Alliance for Life to stand in solidarity for the recognition. He gave special thanks to Wayne Adkins of VITAL.

A bipartisan list of congressmen and senators through the years — including Rob Wittman, who introduced it in the House last year — were also on Lockamy’s list for thanks, as were city officials.

“We also would like to thank the city of Suffolk, the Mayor Linda Johnson and the City Council for their continued support and for believing in the Nansemond Indian Tribe and being part of our success at Mattanock Town,” Lockamy said.

Lockamy said the tribe plans to pursue repatriation of artifacts and ancestors’ remains that were collected by the Smithsonian Institute. The federal recognition allows them to do so, and it is expressly permitted in the tribe’s agreement with the city.

“The reburial of the remains that were collected by the Smithsonian Institute is something that is close to our heart, and we want to see them reinterred to the earth where they belong,” he said.