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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






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