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Indian Affairs Committee

Contemporary Native Peoples of Virginia Fact Sheet

Information Compiled by Quaker Baltimore Yearly Meeting Indian Affairs Committee (2017)

Number of American Indians and Alaska Natives in Virginia

Individuals identifying solely as American Indian or Alaska Native (AI/AN)1 29,225
Individuals identifying as multi-racial (mixed heritage)2 51,699
Total of two groups 80,924
1% of Virginia population

These numbers include members of Virginia tribes but also members of the Cherokee, Lumbee, Navajo, and Blackfeet tribes, among many others, who reside in the state.

Number of American Indian/Alaska Native Residents in United States

The number of individuals identifying as solely American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) in the 2010 Census is 2,932,248, which is 0.9% of U.S. population. The number of individuals identifying as multi-racial (AI/AN plus another race) is 2,288,311. The combined total of individuals identifying as solely and as multi-racial American Indians and Alaska Natives is 5,200,579, which is 1.7% of U.S. population. Native Hawaiians (approximately 400,000) are not included in this Census category.

Native Nations in Commonwealth of Virginia

There is great interest in the history of Virginia tribes. The ongoing excavation of the Werowocomoco early town in Gloucester County will reveal much about the Powhatan Chiefdom era. It is estimated that at the time of colonization 50,000 Native peoples lived in what was then Virginia Indian Territory; the number of citizens of each existing Native Nation/tribe is unknown. We can provide very approximate numbers today. Only the Mattaponi and Pamunkey still have any reservation lands assigned by treaties. They are among the oldest reservations in the U.S. The Pamunkey people (King William County) have 1,200 acres, while the Mattaponi people (also in King William County) have 150 acres. The Nansemond (cities of Suffolk and Chesapeake) have no acreage. The Pamunkey people are featured in the exhibit “Our Lives” at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

Encouraging Respect Today

In 2009, the General Assembly approved a resolution that a monument should be erected “in recognition that the courage, persistence, determination, and cultural values of Virginia's Indians have significantly enhanced and contributed to society.” The Virginia Indian Commemorative Commission was created to recommend an appropriate monument in Capitol Square to commemorate the life, achievements, and legacy of American Indians in the Commonwealth. A “Chiefs Consultation Day” on November 8, 2013 brought the Virginia Governor together with the tribes to discuss issues. Formal government- to-government talks are significant. In addition, the education department created a film and curriculum materials for elementary school teachers about tribes today.3 Native Americans successfully advocated for November to be Virginia American Indian Heritage Month and for the day before Thanksgiving to be American Indian Day. This success resulted in the Virginia Governor annually preparing and reading a positive proclamation (see example below), which provides an opportunity to celebrate and raise public awareness.

WHEREAS, the growing Native American community in Virginia plays an essential role in shaping and advancing the Commonwealth; and

WHEREAS, Native American men and women contribute to all areas of life in Virginia –– including government, business, arts and sciences, medicine, law enforcement, and the military; and

WHEREAS, Native American Awareness Week began in 1976, and recognition was expanded by Congress and approved by President George H. W. Bush in 1990 for the month of November; and

WHEREAS, Virginia is home to 11 Indian tribes that contribute to and strengthen our unique cultural tapestry; and

WHEREAS, on January 28, 2016, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, became the first federally recognized tribe in Virginia; and

WHEREAS, Native American Heritage Month is an opportunity to celebrate the thousands of Native Americans in Virginia whose abilities and contributions strengthen Virginia’s economy, enrich Virginia’s diverse culture, and invigorate Virginia’s communities;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Terence R. McAuliffe, do hereby recognize November 2016 as NATIVE AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH in our COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA, and I call this observance to the attention of all our citizens.

Tribal Citizens, Land Holdings, and Contact Information4

Mattaponi Tribe (450 citizens, 150 acres)
Chief Carl Custalow
No tribal website. See
Has a museum, open on weekends

Pamunkey Indian Tribe (200 citizens, 1,200 acres)
Chief Robert Gray
Pamunkey Tribal Government
191 Lay Landing Road
King William, VA 23086
Tribal website:
Has a museum 804-843-4792

Chickahominy Tribe (840 citizens, 110 acres)
Chief Stephen R. Adkins
8200 Lott Cary Rd
Providence Forge, VA 23140

Chickahominy Tribe Eastern Division (132 citizens, 41 acres)
Chief Gene Adkins
2895 Mt. Pleasant Road
Providence Forge, VA 23140
Tribal website:

Rappahannock Tribe (500 citizens, 132 acres)
Chief Anne Richardson
Rappahannock Tribe Cultural Center
5036 Indian Neck Rd
Indian Neck, VA 23148
Tribal website:

Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe (575 citizens, 32 acres)
Upper MATTA-puh-nye
Chief Ken Adams
PO Box 184
King William, VA 23086
Tribal website:

Nansemond Indian Tribal Association (200 citizens, 0 acres)
Chief Barry Bass
PO Box 6558
Portsmouth, VA 23703
Tribal website:
Sponsors an annual pow wow

Monacan Indian Nation (1,700 citizens, 180 acres)
Chief Dean Branham
PO Box 1136
Madison Heights, VA 24572
Has a museum

Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Tribe
Cheron HA ka (KNOT a way)
Chief Walt “Red Hawk” Brown
Cattashowrock Town
27345 Aquia Path
Courtland, VA 23857
Tribal website:
Has a Green Corn Dance and a visitation day for school children

Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia, Inc.
KNOT a way
Chief Lynette Allston
PO Box 246
Capron, VA 23829
Tribal website:

Patawomeck Indians of Virginia (500 citizens)
Pata WAU mack
Chief John Lightner
PO Box 615
Colonial Beach, VA 22443
Tribal website:

Virginia Tribes in Order of State Recognition5

Native Nations have inherent sovereignty and their own government structures. Other governments may or may not acknowledge their existence and rights. Treaties between sovereign Indigenous governments and Great Britain predate formation of the U.S. The British government still officially recognizes Virginia tribes with which their colonists interacted and a British organization paid for a delegation to visit England in 2006.6 Numerous tribes have requested “official recognition” from Virginia, which means to be legally recognized as governmental entities. Such recognition is important symbolically as a matter of respect and practically as it gives tribes more leverage to protect their sacred sites. Moreover, state recognition reverses and repudiates earlier attempts to annihilate the tribes first through repression and later through legislation.7


Tribe Recognized Location
Mattaponi 17th century Banks of Mattaponi River, King William County
Pamunkey 17th century Banks of Pamunkey River, King William County
Chickahominy 1983 Charles City County
Eastern Chickahominy 1983 New Kent County
Rappahannock 1983 Indian Neck, King & Queen County
Upper Mattaponi 1983 King William County
Nansemond 1985 Cities of Suffolk and Chesapeake
Monacan Indian Nation 1989 Bear Mountain, Amherst County
Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) 2010 Courtland, Southampton County
Nottoway of Virginia 2010 Capron, Southampton County
Patawomeck 2010 Stafford County

Federal Recognition

Federal recognition is important to American Indian (and Alaska Native) people for a number of reasons. First, Indigenous people lived in Virginia for 17,000 years before European contact.8 Virginia tribes that interacted with colonists are in our textbooks; it is without question that they existed. It is illogical and unfair for the U.S. to refuse to grant them federal recognition. Second, Native Nations seek and deserve to have government-to-government relationships with state governments and the federal government. The U.S. constitution grants them equal status. Practically, the voices of leaders of non-federally recognized tribes are not heard in many sectors or in events such as the White House Tribal Nations Conference. Third, federal recognition would allow tribes to apply for financial benefits such as health care, housing, low-interest business loans, development grants, and education scholarships and to obtain basic human rights such as being able to reclaim ancestral remains from museums.9

While some benefits may be extended to individual Indians without federal recognition (for example hiring preference or scholarships), more opportunities are available to formally enrolled members of federally recognized tribes.

The focus here is on collective tribal recognition. Individual American Indians and Alaska Natives born here are U.S. citizens, although this was not the case before 1924.


On July 2, 2015, Assistant Secretary, Indian Affairs Kevin K. Washburn recognized the Pamunkey Tribe as a federally recognized Indian tribe. A group then challenged the decision but lost its case before the Interior Board of Indian Appeals on January 28, 2016. The tribe has long sought the recognition.10 The Pamunkey people held their formal celebration on May 28, 2016 at the museum on the tribe’s reservation.

PETITIONING PROCESS. For decade upon decade, in various ways, the traditional tribes of Virginia have applied to the U.S. government for legal recognition. Here are the current approaches:

The Mattaponi tribe is still seeking federal recognition by route of the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ administrative process (that the Pamunkey tribe used successfully albeit slowly). The colony of Virginia and England recognized their tribe in the 17th century through treaties.

Six tribes (Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Upper Mattaponi, Rappahannock, Nansemond, and Monacan Indian Nation) began seeking federal recognition through Congress in 2000.

HURDLES. Virginia’s tribes face a unique challenge to recognition as organized governments of indigenous peoples. Walter A. Plecker became a decisive and divisive figure in the history of Virginia Indians. As Registrar of the state’s vital statistics, he enforced a policy of declaring an individual to be white or colored on birth, marriage, and death certificates. He administratively eliminated the possibility of documenting one’s Indian ancestry in Virginia. He changed records and made decisions based on his interpretation of the origins of names.11

Advocacy and Congress

For such historical reasons, many Virginia tribes cannot become federal recognized by going through the traditional Bureau of Indian Affairs administrative process. Therefore, they have had to turn to Congress to pass a special bill on their behalf. This meant first getting the state government to endorse their quest for federal recognition which was accomplished. For nearly two decades, the six tribes have successfully enlisted members of both parties to support their cause in Congress. Although bills have made progress in both houses, they have not passed.12

In the 114th Congress, S. 465, the “Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2015,” was introduced by Senator Tim Kaine. [To track the progress of any Senate bill, go to] In the House, H.R.872 to extend Federal recognition to the Chickahominy Indian Tribe, the Chickahominy Indian Tribe-Eastern Division, the Upper Mattaponi Tribe, the Rappahannock Tribe, Inc., the Monacan Indian Nation, and the Nansemond Indian Tribe was introduced by Rep Robert J Wittman. [To track the progress of House bills, go to]

The Virginia Council of Churches has been part of the advocacy campaign. To quote from a letter of support it wrote, “We have participated with these tribes in pow-wows and in worship; we have educated our congregations to their history and the issues surrounding recognition. We have provided letters of support, as well as testimony. We have shared our prayers, hopes, and dreams that one day we would see this become reality.”13 The head of VCC Jon Barton says, “I continue to be amazed and inspired by these tribes who continue to get up, dust themselves off, and start again.” (June 24, 2012).

Quaker lobbying organization for any Native legislation

Ruth Flower
Friends Committee on National Legislation
245 Second Street, NE
Washington, DC 20002
202-547-6000 or 800-630-1330

Current Issues

FISHING RIGHTS. In 2014, the Mattaponi and Pamunkey tribes believed that their traditional and treaty-based fishing rights were being restricted due to a ruling by the Virginia’s attorney general.14

CASINOS. The Virginia tribes that seek federal recognition through Congressional action have expressed willingness to waive their sovereign right to use their lands as they please by forgoing the establishment of casinos if they receive recognition. The issue is one of recognition of their governmental sovereignty rather than the development of particular commercial enterprises. The Pamunkey tribe did not rule out having a casino when they received Federal Recognition.

MASCOTS. The use of Indian references by sports teams is offensive to many. In Virginia, as around the U.S., advocates have requested public schools and schools of higher education to stop using Indian names, mascots, symbols, chants, and tokens that can denigrate Indian people and tribes. In the 1990s, the American Indian Cultural Support group found 76 Virginia schools with Indian names including a middle school using “The Squaws.” That name may since have been changed to The Hawks. In about 2000, the Unified Coalition for American Indian Concerns and the Virginia Chapter of the American Indian Movement counted 68 elementary and high schools that used names such as Braves (8), Chiefs (1), Indians (50), and Warrior (8). Progress has been made but it is difficult to keep track of changes.15

GENERAL. The Governor, Secretary of Natural Resources, chiefs or their representatives from ten of Virginia's 11 state-recognized tribes, and leaders of state agencies met in late 2013 to discuss programs such as updating published and video tribal histories produced by the Virginia Department of Education, Historic Resources, and VDOT; updating the Story of Virginia exhibit at the Virginia Historical Society Museum; and discussing the advantages of being registered as an 8A Small Business.16

State Agency Contact for Indian Affairs

Secretary of the Commonwealth
1111 East Broad Street, 4th Floor
Richmond, Virginia 23219

Until 2012, a small entity within the Department of Natural Resources provided a point of contact for diverse Indian-related activities from tourism to public education. Established in 1982, the Virginia Council of Indians was an advisory board to the Governor and General Assembly. Its functions included research; liaison work with Native leaders; coordination with state and federal agencies; and making recommendations regarding Indian Tribes in the Commonwealth. However, the Council seldom met after September 2009 as it fell out of favor with many tribes due to state recognition procedures. Numerous tribal leaders opted out of participation in the Council and wanted it disbanded. During a state reorganization plan, it was eliminated. In 2014, the General Assembly passed a law directing the Secretary of the Commonwealth to serve as the Governor’s liaison to the Virginia Indian Tribes. That office prepares a comprehensive report on the status of Indian tribes for the General Assembly annually. To obtain information now, members of the public should consider what agency might be able to help with the subject matter, for example the Department of Historic Resources (804) 367-2323. Also see


*American Indian Society
PO Box 6431
Falls Church, VA 22040-6431
The Society brings together Indian people from any tribe who live in the area. Meets first Wednesday of month at 8 p.m., St. Clemens Church, 1701 N. Quaker Lane, Alexandria. Newsletter subscription $17.

*Virginia Council of Churches
1214 West Graham Road
Richmond, VA 23220
Rev. Jonathan Barton

University Programs

*American Indian Resource Center
Danielle Moretti-Langholtz, director, or Martin Gallivan
Anthropology Department, William and Mary
Washington Hall Room 105 Williamsburg, VA 23185

*American Indian Studies
Sam Cook or Brenda Husser
Sociology Department, Virginia Tech University
544 McBryde Hall
Blacksburg, VA 24061

*Native American and Indigenous Studies
Eric Anderson, director
English Department, George Mason University
405C Robinson Hall A, MS 3E4
Fairfax, VA 22030

Interesting Ritual

An Astonishing Annual Event

Each year, Virginia Indian tribes bring wild game to the Governor of Virginia as “reservation rent.” This tradition has evolved into a ceremony which is complete with media coverage of the personal appearance by the governor who formally receives the game at the mansion.

On the day before Thanksgiving, when Governor Tim Kaine was presented with game and other gifts, 200 people looked on. Indian representatives had breakfast with him. In 2010, Governor Robert McDonnell accepted two deer and a turkey from Chief Carl Custalow of the Mattaponi and Chief Robert Gray of the Pamunkey tribes dressed in traditional regalia. The executive chef planned to cook up a venison stew. A woman’s dance was performed. On the day before Thanksgiving 2015, Chief Mark “Falling Star” 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 Governor McAuliffe and his wife with two trussed deer, pottery, and other gifts. The deer were then donated to Hunters for the Hungry, a Virginia charity.

How did such a tradition begin? With a treaty signed in 1677. Britain demanded that Virginia tribes provide the crown with beaver skins. In return the tribes would not be taxed. In recent decades, the only time beaver pelts were presented was in 1996 to Governor George Allen. The eleven and seven year-old grandsons of a chief held a long pole with 20 pelts.

It is interesting to speculate why the “tribute” practice was retained, especially after American Indians collectively became stronger and less resigned. There was another aspect to the peace treaty though; it acknowledged Indian rights. Certainly, one reason to continue the commemoration today is that the publicity raises awareness that tribes are more than part of Virginia history. They exist and are going strong today.17



To move beyond the legends, the National Park Service provides archaeological information about where the real Pocahontas lived.


Powwows are gatherings of Indians that celebrate their Native heritage through music and dance and special regalia. Many include Native craft vendors. Pow wows originated with the tribes from the Great Plains. Now, many tribes dance, drum, and compete, showing off their own cultural heritages and adapting those of other Tribes. Many Virginia pow wows and gatherings are listed on this website Barry Richardson who does coordinating may also have information [pow; 252-532-0821). In addition, individual tribes may list pow wows or public events on their websites. Virginia Beach and several community colleges have annual pow wows.


In 2009, Virginian-Pilot reporter, Joanne Kimberlin (with Miranda Mulligan and Steve Earley) wrote a three-part series, with links to additional information, on the history and legal issues regarding Virginia Indians



GENERAL: (military)


We're Still Here: Contemporary Virginia Indians Tell Their Stories by Sandra F. Waugaman and Danielle Moretti-Langholtz Ph.D.

The Monacan Indian Nation of Virginia: The Drums of Life (Contemporary American Indians) by Rosemary Clark Whitlock

We Have a Story to Tell: Native People of the Chesapeake Region by the Education Office of the National Museum of the American Indian, 2006, a teacher’s guide for grades 9-12.


1. The Census uses AI/AN to designate this population and gives the following definition. “American Indian or Alaska Native” refers to a person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment. This category includes people who indicated their race(s) as “American Indian or Alaska Native” or reported their enrolled or principal tribe, such as Navajo, Blackfeet, Inupiat, Yup’ik, or Central American Indian groups or South American Indian groups.” Understanding Race and Hispanic Origin from the 2010 Census, report by Karen Humes, Nicholas Jones, and Roberto Ramirez.

2. The Census Bureau first allowed people to identify with more than one race or ethnicity in 2000. By 2010, many understood and availed themselves of this option. Nationally, a white and AI/AN combination was reported by 1.4 million. This figure is included in a Sept 2012 press release. See The increase also happened in Virginia. See numbers below from the 2000 Virginia General Demographics Profile.

Individuals identifying solely as American Indian or Alaska Native 21,172

Individuals identifying as multiple race (mixed heritage)  31,692 [now 51,699]

Total of two groups                                                                          52,864

It is logical that Native people who live in areas away from traditional Indian lands and reservations are more likely to be multi-racial (mixed heritage). In Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, approximately 35% identify themselves as solely AI/AN compared to approximately 86% in New Mexico, the Dakotas, and Arizona. Interestingly though, North Carolina has 184,000 American Indian and Alaska Native people and 66% of them identify as solely AI/AN. As a side note, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has its headquarters in Washington, D.C. Many of its employees are Native, so the numbers of people reporting to be solely or partly AI/AN may be enlarged by Native people originally from elsewhere who live in Virginia and work for BIA, a fact unrelated to the local indigenous populations.

3. For more about the prospective monument, go to . For pictures of many important tribal leaders at the Consultation event, go to To see the information for school children, go to

4. Numbers and land size for first eight tribes. Pronunciation from We Have a Story to Tell; Virginia Council on Indians; and series for Virginia-Pilot by Joanne Kimberlin, Miranda Mulligan and Steve Earley. See . In the future, if the tribal information becomes dated, the Secretary of the Commonwealth has information on its website.

5. Virginia had received letters of intent but no formal petitions for state recognition from Appalachian Intertribal Heritage Association, United Cherokee Indian Tribe of Virginia, Blue Ridge Cherokee, Tauxenent Indian Nation of Virginia, and Bear Saponi Tribe of Clinch Mountain Southwest Virginia

6. Representatives of the eight tribes that Virginia recognized at the time met with British officials and went to England in 2006 ( For feature story, see According to the Associated Press, “Virginia tribal leaders accepted an invitation to stage an Indian celebration next year in England, one year before the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown. The festival which will take place in Gravesend, not far from the grave of the 17th-century Indian princess Pocahontas, a key figure in sustaining North America's first permanent English settlement. The British Jamestown 2007 Committee is organizing the celebration.”

7. “After more than three centuries of relentless pressure on native communities, [in the early 20th century] Virginia attempted to legislate the remnants of Virginia’s First Nations out of existence.” We’re Still Here (2006) by Sandra Waugaman and Danielle Moretti-Langholtz, p. 6.


9. Federal recognition facilitates certain benefits, although these are not automatic nor are they granted simply because someone states that they have Indian ancestry. Any benefits are tribal-based not racial-based because they flow from treaties, the constitution, legal cases, congressional and presidential action, and a trust responsibility. Membership in a federally recognized tribe is required for an individual Indian to receive most government benefits. See For a brief Virginia history, see For technical information on many topics, see The Rights of Indians and Tribes (4th edition, 2012) by Stephen Pevar, Oxford University Press. For Virginia, see “The importance of legal recognition issue” from “We have a story to tell: Native Peoples of the Chesapeake region,” by Gabrielle Tayac, and Edwin Schupman, National Museum of the American Indian. Regarding ancestral remains, see

10. Interior released this statement: “The Pamunkey petitioner, located in Virginia, was found to have met all seven mandatory criteria for Federal acknowledgment as set forth in 25 CFR Part 83.7. Specifically, the Pamunkey petitioner has: continuously identified as an American Indian entity since 1900; has existed as a distinct community and maintained political influence over its members since historical times; has provided governing documents describing its governance procedures and membership criteria; has also provided a list of its current members who descend from an historical Indian tribe and who are not also members of another federally recognized tribe; and is not subject to congressional legislation that has expressly terminated or forbidden the federal relationship. The petitioner has occupied a land base in southeastern King William County, Virginia - shown on a 1770 map as “Indian Town” - since the Colonial Era in the 1600s and exists today as a state Indian reservation. The Pamunkey petitioner has a current membership of 203 individuals and elects its own leaders.”

11. In 1924, Virginia passed the Racial Integrity Act, defining Negros as anyone with one drop of Negro blood. Through the centuries, Virginia Indians had intermarried with many of the peoples who came to live in their homelands, including those from Africa and Europe. By Virginia law, these people were no longer Indians. The law was amended in response to Virginia’s influential white families—who celebrated their relationships to Pocahontas. The amendment allowed anyone otherwise white person with no more than 1/16th Indian blood to be classified as white. Another law, passed in 1930, once again allowed some people to be classified as Indian, though only if they had ¼ or more Indian blood and less than 1/16th black blood—and then only if they lived on a reservation isolated from other racial groups. These racial laws were struck down as unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967 in the case of Loving versus Virginia ( SEE ALSO ;

12. House Supporters have included Rep. Ann Davis (R), Rep. Robert Scott (D), Rep. Rob Wittman (R), Rep. Thomas Perriello (D), Rep. Gerald Connolly (D), Rep. Donald S. Beyer (D ) and Rep. Scott Rigell (R). Senate supporters have included Sen. George Allen (R); Sen. Tim Kaine (D) and Sen. Mark Warner (D). The legislation is named in honor of the late Indian advocate Thomasina Jordan who led the effort to secure recognition. The Virginia Council of Churches reached out to the faith community on behalf of “Native brothers and sisters” stating: “It is vital that our Bishops, Judicatory Executives, local pastors and laypersons join in the choir of voices calling for recognition now.”

13. The letter was signed by 32 representatives of the following faiths: Baptist, Brethren, Catholic, Christian (Disciples of Christ), Episcopal, Greek Orthodox, Jewish, Lutheran, Methodist, Muslim, Presbyterian, and United Church of Christ.


15. While information on mascots in Virginia comes from sources that may be unreliable, see and At the national level, the Washington football team has been pressured to change its name. The National Museum of the American Indian, the National Congress of American Indians, and faith organizations including Baltimore Yearly Meeting have sought change. Nevertheless, the heads of three Virginia tribes are not part of the opposition. There is also a political calculation for some.

16. See

17. For newspaper features, see;;

This profile/fact sheet was prepared by volunteers for the Indian Affairs Committee (established by Quakers in 1795) based on the most reliable information that could be obtained. Total accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

                Indian Affairs Committee, Baltimore Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends

                17100 Quaker Lane Sandy Spring, MD 20860



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