City of Suffolk returns land to Nansemond Indian Nation

Published 3:42 pm Monday, May 20, 2024

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It was an emotional and historical moment for the Nansemond Indian Nation as Suffolk City Council approved a Memorandum of Understanding that allowed the land transfer of Mattanock Town back to the Nation last Wednesday, May 15 at City Hall.

The 7 to 0 vote during their council meeting, with Council Member Leroy Bennett abstaining, follows the March 20 public hearing where the council tabled the MOU for the document to be refined. In a brief history overview, Deputy City Manager Kevin Hughes reflected that back in August 15, 2013, the Nansemond Indian Tribal Association nonprofit and the city worked together on a deed for the 71 acres of Lone Star Lakes that was transferred to the association.

“There was a vision to create the ‘Mattanock Town Project,’ which was essentially a tourism generated program, that really pushed towards Native American culture and heritage. Within that transaction, it was outlined in a development agreement. That development agreement outlined that if Mattanock Town did not come to fruition [within] five years, the city had a reverter clause related to the property. Obviously, that did not come into fruition and the property has come back to the city.”

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Following the Nansemond Indian Nation being federally recognized as a sovereign government in 2018, Hughes says this creates a “new step forward” for the Nation for potential federal funding and programing. The Nation also shared with council that Mattanock Town’s vision has evolved to be more focused on conservation and education rather than tourism. MOU highlights include:

  • Nansemond Indian Nation finalizing a Conservation Easement with Ducks Unlimited on the entirety of the Mattanock Town Site
  • City of Suffolk retaining both utility easement and access to the utility easement on site.
  • Nansemond Indian Nation provides reasonable public access during daylight to walking trails.
  • City of Suffolk continues to support Nansemond Indian Nation during their annual Powwow and provide response for public safety calls 
  • Nation agreeing to pay real estate tax or a fee in lieu of tax.
  • Establishing a City/Nation committee, which includes at least two government officials, to discuss issues of joint concern with its first meeting being conducted within 60 days of the MOU’s start date.
  • Collaborating with both Suffolk Parks and Recreation and Health Department to expand recreational and leisure opportunities for citizens and visitors.

Prior to motioning the approval of the ordinance with Council Member Roger Fawcett seconding, Council Member Shelley Butler-Barlow says it has been “a long time coming to this moment.”

“As a city, as a council, as a community, as citizens of Suffolk, that I would say to you that the Nansemond Indian Nation has waited a really long time – hundreds of years to resolve this particular situation,” Butler-Barlow said. “I think we have a really amazing opportunity here to combine our beautiful Lone Star Lakes park of just over a thousand acres, the adjacent property in Chuckatuck of the Glasscock property that will offer active parks and rec opportunities, and then, a nationally recognized Native-American tribe to have facility on the other side of the Lone Star property. I think history will look kindly on us for supporting this effort and being a part of this historic moment.”

Following the vote, Nansemond Indian Nation Tribe Council Vice Chair Nikki Bass expressed “gratitude” on the long awaited moment.

“I am thankful to every single person who brought us to this moment, including all of our ancestors, all of our community partners,” Bass said. “This is a group success and it will continue to be a growing group success into the future.

Bass says the journey to the memorandum has spanned generations.

“So I am here today, but our tribal leaders before me have poured their lives into this and I wish every single person could be here today, but several have passed away,” she said. “So it is incredible and I feel a sense of obligation to bring all of our dreams into reality now.”

On what’s next for Bass and the Nansemond Indian Nation?

“We have the biggest and most exciting plans to bring to life, and there is going to be a celebration! So we will share the details with you when we’re ready, but we will be celebrating this for a long time,” Bass enthusiastically said.