Indigenous tribes present wild game, gifts to Gov. Youngkin in annual tax tribute

Published: Nov. 23, 2022 at 6:44 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Dozens gathered at the Governor’s mansion to celebrate the centuries-long relationship between the Commonwealth and the Mattaponi and Pamunkey Indian tribes.

The annual tax tribute ceremony dates back to 1677 when an agreement was signed allowing Native Americans to give fresh game to the colonial government as an alternative to paying taxes.

“Upholding the trust and treaty responsibilities in our government-to-government relationship is critical to honoring the past, present and recognizing that our future together is one where we are intertwined as people,” Governor Youngkin said.

The Mattaponi and Pamunkey tribes gifted the wild game, art and jewelry to the Governor and the First Lady.

It’s a tradition, Chief Mark Thomas Fallingstar Custalow of the Mattaponi Indian tribe says has been recognized for 345 years.

“It’s an honor for us to be here and for us to be a part of it. Like I said before, I’ve been doing this since I was a little kid. The first time I came, I was 3 years old,” said Mark Thomas Fallingstar Custalow, chief of the Mattaponi Indian Tribe.

For centuries, Thanksgiving has been celebrated by Indigenous people to show gratitude for a plentiful harvest. But there’s a painful side to the annual tradition.

“I can’t say I’m thankful that the settlers landed in 1607 and by 1699, 9 out of 10 of our native people had perished,” Stephen Adkins, Chief of the Chickahominy Indian tribe, said.

He added that many of their stories remain untold in Virginia public schools.

“It’s hard being an Indian when we countered our inheritance and made sure that we stayed together. We’ve gone from a survival mode to a thriving mode,” Adkins said.

While there’s a lot to celebrate this Thanksgiving, Virginia’s native tribes are still working to overcome the settlement that set them back.

“We’re working towards our federal recognition, that’s our big piece,” Chief Custalow said. “We are the criteria of the Mattaponi people, but yet we’re not federally recognized. So that is something we are working towards,” he said.

Custalow said Wednesday the move to be federally recognized is costly, but the Mattaponi Indian Tribe is closer to that goal than ever before.