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Members of Mattaponi tribe plan protest during annual tax tribute ceremony

Mattaponi Chief Mark Custalow presents Gov. Ralph Northam with a deer in November, 2018, under...
Mattaponi Chief Mark Custalow presents Gov. Ralph Northam with a deer in November, 2018, under the terms of a treaty signed in 1677.(Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
Published: Nov. 23, 2021 at 7:57 AM EST
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For 343 years, representatives of the Mattaponi and Pamunkey Indian Tribes have been delivering the fresh game in lieu of taxes to Virginia governors under the terms of a 1677 peace treaty.

This year, some members of the Mattaponi tribe are hoping the pre-Thanksgiving ceremony will deliver something for them: attention to their push for democratic tribal elections and women’s suffrage.

“It’s five unelected men who make decisions for everyone,” said Gloria Custalow, a 62-year-old member of the tribe who began petitioning for the right to participate in tribal politics in 2016. “It’s backward and we just need to get things straight.”

She spoke last week in the waiting area of the King William County Courthouse, where she and 12 other members of the tribe and their supporters were being booked on misdemeanor charges of trespassing and assault by mob.

Mattaponi Chief Mark Custalow filed the charges late last month after a group of tribal members and their supporters walked to his home on the reservation to deliver a petition announcing they would no longer recognize the tribal government and planned to hold the first open election since the mid-1970s.

Lawyers for the demonstrators called the criminal charges, which the chief swore out before a magistrate, absurd.

“They knocked on the door and left a copy of the petition; then they went home and had a cookout,” said Tony Troy, a former attorney general who is representing the tribal members pro-bono with his law partner, Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin.

Video of the march showed a peaceful demonstration that lasted less than 10 minutes. Troy said the youngest participants were children and the oldest was 93.

At a hearing Thursday, a judge set a trial for Dec. 16 and agreed to modify a restraining order the chief also took out against participants in the march to allow them to attend a protest Wednesday on Capitol Square, which is timed to coincide with the annual tax-tribute, during which Chief Custalow and his predecessors traditionally present the governor deer and other game harvested from the reservation.

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.(Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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