| RICHMOND, VA Few traditions in America go back 338 years,
but on a crisp and glorious Wednesday morning here, Virginia Gov.
Terry McAuliffe and two Indian chiefs celebrated a cherished one.
It began with the chiefs chatting with the governor and his
family over coffee and Danish pastry (and a few sips of beer) inside
the governor's mansion, proceeded to speeches and tribal dancing
by the Pamunkey and Mattaponi in front of the home and ended with
governor milling with guests and patting a dead deer in his driveway
on the head.
Carl Custalow presents Governor McDonnell with a deer as tax
(photo by Kathy Scott - CBS 6, WTVR-TV)
Just another morning in Richmond.
The Treaty of Middle Plantation in 1677 was specific. The governor
of the colony of Virginia, Herbert Jefferies, was to be paid each
year in beaver skins. That demand is laid out in Article 16 of the
peace and mutual protection accord between King Charles II of England
and a number of Virginia's Indian tribes.
"That every Indian King and Queen in the Moneth of March every
year, with some of their Great Men, shall tender their Obedience
to the Right Honourable His Majesties Governour at the place of
his Residence, whereever it shall be, and then and there pay the
accustomed Tribute of Twenty Beaver Skins to the Governour."
Time passes. Things change. Virginia, as right honorable American
history buffs know, is no longer a colony. Herbert Jefferies is
no longer governor. Beaver pelts are just one more item on PETA's
But 338 years later, tribute must still be paid. And so it was
the day before Thanksgiving (in the Moneth of November) that Chief
Mark Fallingstar Custalow of the Mattaponi and Chief Robert Gray
of the Pamunkey and members of their tribes gathered on the driveway
of the governor's mansion and presented its current resident and
his wife with two trussed up deer, pottery, a bracelet and a bolo
Each tribe was responsible for one deer. The Pamunkey, who earlier
this year became the first Virginia tribe to be granted federal
recognition and are now fighting a challenge to that status, conducted
their hunt Monday on their 1,200 acre reservation east of Richmond.
It was cold and windy, but persistence paid off. Three deer were
killed, including the 10-point buck they presented to McAuliffe.
"We got a nice one for the governor," said Gray, whose tribe
claims Pocohantas as an ancestor. "It was a good day." Gray and
others in the tribe gutted the deer Monday night and prepared it
for presentation. That included stuffing it with newspapers in plastic
bags and sewing it back up so it wouldn't appear caved in. It's
the kind of trick you learn when you present a deer year after year.
Most years, including this one, the deer is donated to Hunters
for the Hungry, a Virginia charity that has provided 23 million
quarter-pound servings of venison to people in need since it began
in 1991. (In 2010, then-Gov. Robert McDonnell (R) had the mansion's
chef prepare the deer for dinner and reportedly enjoyed the meal.)
presentation of annual tribute to the Governor of Virginia,
circa 1928. Pictured from left to right are Walter Bradby,
Theodora Dennis Cook, Chief George Major Cook, Governor Harry
Byrd, Pocahontas Cook, Willy Bradby, James Bradby, and Duckie
The annual event had become something of a scene in Richmond.
It became such a big deal that a few years ago the tribes asked
that the presentation be scaled back to a more manageable circus.
On Wednesday, a crowd of 200 or so was on hand to witness the ceremony
and take pictures with tribe members, many of whom wore ceremonial
What Virginia's Indians get in exchange, besides a photo op
and coffee with the governor, is a bit unclear. The original treaty
promised that the tribes would be allowed territory and hunting
and fishing rights in exchange for their fealty to English rule.
The Pamunkey and Mattaponi do have small reservations, but they
are the only Virginia tribes that do.
Indeed Virginia has not been especially kind to Indians. For
decades in the 20th century the state's registrar, Walter Plecker,
an unapologetic white supremacist and eugenicist, tried to eliminate
the category of Indian from the state's records. It was an effort
that critics labeled bureaucratic genocide and resulted in generations
of Indians whose very identity was denied by the state.
The effect of Plecker's racist practice has lingered long since
his death in 1947. Identity issues plague Virginia's Indians and
the dearth of records continues to be used against them.
Though the Pamunkey took part in Wednesday's ceremony as a federally
recognized tribe, their new status comes with an asterisk. After
learning in July that they would become the first Virginia tribe
to receive federal recognition, there was jubilation among the Pamunkey's
208 members. But that changed to weary resignation in October when
the tribe was informed of a last-minute effort to derail their bid.
Stand Up for California, a non-profit group that has sought
to limit the federal recognition of tribes because it allows them
to pursue gambling and casino interests, appealed the federal government's
decision to award the Pamunkey recognition. It claimed that the
tribe's members were not descendants of Indian ancestors.
Last year, Stand Up teamed with casino giant MGM to officially
oppose Pamunkey recognition. MGM is opening a $1.3 billion casino
in Prince George's County next year and has made clear that it opposes
any casino development in Virginia. If the Pamunkey are granted
recognition, they would be able to pursue gambling interests, which
they'd already begun discussing.
On Wednesday, McAuliffe said he has written to the Bureau of
Indian Affairs to request a prompt resolution of the challenge.
"We have a long, continuous relationship here with the Native
American community," said. "I support the federal recognition of
these tribes. They've been here a very long time and they meet the
criteria. We in Virginia have a harder burden because of Mr. Plecker,
but we can get over that burden."
Warren Taylor, a 22-year-old member of the Pamunkey, has made
many trips to Richmond for this annual ceremony. As his tribe fights
for recognition, he treasures the traditions like this one.
"I hope it brings more attention to the tribe and puts Virginia
Native American history at the forefront," he says. "I love the
tribe. My culture gave me a future and so that's something I'm trying
One day, he said, he hopes to be chief.