Nansemond recognized at historic site

Published 9:11 pm Wednesday, October 3, 2018

It was a solemn and celebratory occasion all at the same time on Wednesday when the Nansemond Indian Tribe and six others that recently gained federal recognition were formally recognized by the Department of the Interior.

“It’s going to be a big beginning for all of us,” Nansemond Chief Lee Lockamy said before the ceremony. “And you couldn’t have it at a better place.”

The ceremony took place at Werowocomoco, the site in present-day Gloucester County overlooking the York River that’s believed to have been the residence of Powhatan and gathering center for all of the tribes in his chiefdom, which included the Nansemond and some of the other tribes recognized Wednesday.

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Six Virginia tribes — the Nansemond, Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Monacan, Rappahannock and Upper Mattaponi — achieved federal recognition in January 2018 when President Donald Trump signed a bill passed by a huge bipartisan margin in both houses of Congress. The Pamunkey Tribe, also honored Wednesday, attained sovereign status through the Bureau of Indian Affairs two years earlier.

The common theme emphasized by multiple speakers at Wednesday’s event was looking toward the future. Rappahannock Chief G. Anne Richardson, during her blessing of the grounds, invoked the Lord’s help with forgiveness of the past and justice for the future.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke also looked ahead.

“The story today is a story of promise,” he said. “These are sovereign nations that once were large, powerful and had the destiny of their own future. Today, we are celebrating the future. My pledge is to work with these great nations and make sure the government is a partner.”

Several speakers talked about how the recognition was a long time coming. The tribes had found themselves unable to attain recognition through the Bureau of Indian Affairs because they had to prove their lineage, which was impossible due to gaps in the historic record. Some of the gaps were the result of a discriminatory state law that labeled all births as either “white” or “colored,” with no room for a designation of American Indian.

So they sought to have recognition through Congress. The first bill was introduced nearly two decades ago, but it had been quashed every year by legislators who through the tribes should have to go through the Bureau of Indian Affairs process.

“It’s taken about 418 years to get us to where we are today,” Lockamy said during Wednesday’s ceremony.

Congressman Rob Wittman praised the final passage of the bill and the tribes’ perseverance.

“Today is a recognition of what’s so wonderful about our sovereign nation,” he said. “We all sometimes lamented and said, ‘Is this ever going to happen?’ But by faith, today is here. This is totally nonpartisan and bipartisan, however you want to couch it. The Lord was looking down on us.”

He credited the Virginia tribes for helping to create the United States of America.

“These First Contact Tribes were really the conduit for our nation to become what it is today,” he said.

Several Nansemond members were in attendance on Wednesday, including Thomas Badamo, who presented a gift from the tribes to Zinke.

“It’s a final acknowledgement of the facts,” he said. “As First Contact People, to be denied federal recognition, I thought, was amazing.”

The recognition brings with it a great responsibility, he said. “Thankfully, we have people in our tribe that are willing to pitch in and do it.”

Nansemond member Nikki Bass described Wednesday’s event as a “moment of togetherness with the other tribes.”

“It’s important to celebrate togetherness and look forward instead of looking backwards,” she said.