Mattaponi Petition for Federal Acknowledgment Filed
January 10, 2023
Dear Citizen of the Mattaponi Nation:
I and my colleagues on the constitutionally elected council of the Mattaponi Tribe took a signiﬁcant step towards gaining federal recognition for the Mattaponi by ﬁling a petition with the US Department of the Interior last week. The petition highlights our tribe's long history dating to its ﬁrst contact with European colonists in 1607 and seeks recognition of the tribe's sovereignty. If successful, this petition would establish a government-to-government relationship with the US and provide the tribe with access to funding and services available only to federally recognized tribes.
It is past time for the Mattaponi Tribe to get the recognition it deserves. Our tribe's sovereignty dates to a time before the United States existed. We are conﬁdent the petition demonstrates the tribe's continuous existence, community, and political inﬂuence as required by the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Federal Acknowledgement Process.
The petition includes the tribe's new constitution that brings democracy and transparency back to tribal governance and deﬁnes membership in the tribe to include all lineal descendants without exception. The constitution (adopted unanimously by qualiﬁed members of the tribe who voted in the certiﬁed March 2022 election) ensures that all active members of the tribe, including women, have equal rights to participate in the governance of our tribal nation regardless of whether they live on the reservation. It promises free and fair elections of tribal governance on a regular schedule, something that hasn’t happened for 40 years. Finally, the constitution prohibits discrimination in tribal governance and secures freedom of speech and due process for all members of the tribe.
Mark Custalow and two previous administrations have not moved the tribe toward federal recognition while all other eligible Virginia tribes have achieved this goal. This is true despite the fact that they received a three year, $300,000 a year federal grant for this purpose more than 15 months ago. They failed to follow up on a letter of intent to petition ﬁled with the BIA in 1995, and, in 2000, they withdrew the tribe from participating in the Thomasina Jordan Act that secured recognition for six other tribes in 2018. If Mark Custalow had the best interests of the tribe at heart, he would support our petition and work with us to unify the tribe under elected leadership.
The lack of federal recognition has hurt and continues to hurt the tribe and its members. It has precluded the tribe's participation in federal programs that could have provided vital funds and opportunities for the future of the tribe and our members, such as:
Services from the Bureau of Indian Affairs;1
Consultation on issues like the federal Census;2 and
Critical COVID-19 relief funds.3
In addition, the failure to secure federal recognition meant the tribe was ineligible for any of the $900 million in American Rescue Plan funds distributed to federally recognized tribes for housing, infrastructure, and economic development.
The constitutionally elected tribal leaders who joined in ﬁling the petition are hopeful that the petition for federal recognition will be successful and that the Mattaponi will be able to participate in these essential programs and initiatives going forward.
Our vision for the future is a uniﬁed, federally recognized tribe inclusive of all lineal descendants with an expanded reservation that has a lively cultural and community center and other facilities that beneﬁt all members of the tribe and allow us to preserve our heritage.
Please let me know if you have questions about the petition. We would be happy to meet with you and delighted to have your support of our efforts.
Very truly yours,
Chief Lionel Custalow
About Mattaponi Tribe
No right is more sacred to a nation, to a people, than the right to freely determine its social, economic, political and cultural future without external interference. The fullest expression of this right occurs when a nation freely governs itself. We call the exercise of this right Self-Determination.
The practice of this right is Self-Governance.
The Mattaponi People are a Sovereign Nation and Self-Governing Tribe.
It has been my honor to serve the Mattaponi Tribe as the first elected Chief in nearly forty years. In 2022, we accomplished a great deal. The tribal members elected a new tribal government, ratified the tribal constitution (ensuring equal rights for all members) and now we have delivered on our promise to reunite the historic tribal family descendants by returning them to the tribal roll.
2023 will be a tremendous year as we continue to grow our tribal membership while remaining committed to the preservation of our cultural and self-determination. We walk this path together. I want all members of the tribe to feel welcomed and know they have a place within the sacred circle.
~ Chief Lionel "Wise Spirit" Custalow
For far too long, Mattaponi tribal descendants have been denied membership, shunned and rejected by the past tribal leadership. In 2021, the Mattaponi Tribal Citizens for Change organized and changed the course of history for the tribe by holding the first open and fair election in 2022, the first in nearly 40 years. The previous tribal administrations were self-appointed and NOT elected by the tribal people. Consequently, their desire to retain total control of the tribal entity and land resulted in cutting off ties with tribal descendants, except for their own immediate families, in order to maintain their control.
Under the new leadership of Chief Lionel Custalow and Assistant Chief Gloria Custalow and their Council, the Mattaponi tribal descendants are coming home to the tribe again. ALL TRIBAL DESCENDANTS ARE WELCOME IN THE MATTAPONI TRIBE. The time has come for us to expand our circle to include all of the tribal people, honor our ancestors, grow our community, preserve our lands and celebrate our culture again. Our tribe has many gifted keepers of our traditions. These traditions are meant to be shared with all, especially the next generations.
Mattaponi people come home and reclaim your place within the tribal family. We will work together to move forward from the devastating past by building a strong foundation for the future. The Mattaponi Tribe will prosper and flourish again. Download and read our first ratified tribal constitution, where it protects members from discrimination, while it provides a balance of power to ALL members.
From left: red-tailed hawk, peregrine falcon, killdeer, Steller’s jay (top), varied thrush, red-shouldered hawk, northern spotted owl, turkey vulture, turkey, golden eagle, bald eagle, great blue heron, white pelican, American crow, great horned owl, Cooper’s hawk, scrub jay (top), sapsucker, meadowlark (small pair), red-shafted flicker (top), American kestrel (brown & black), acorn woodpecker (black & white), barn owl. (Photo by Todd Pickering)