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Virginia Tribes Give Deer Tribute To Governor In 342-Year-Old Tradition

Mattaponi Chief Mark Custalow leads a group of women in a ceremonial dance
Mattaponi Chief Mark Custalow (left) leads a group of women in a ceremonial dance during Wednesday's tax tribute. (Roberto Roldan/VPM)
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Governor Ralph Northam
Speaking at Wednesday's ceremony, Governor Ralph Northam said Virginia's indigenous people are an important part of the state's complex past. (Roberto Roldan/VPM)
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Pamunkey Chief Robert Gray presented Governor Ralph Northam and first lady Pamela Northam with gifts
Pamunkey Chief Robert Gray presented Governor Ralph Northam and first lady Pamela Northam with gifts on Wednesday. (Roberto Roldan/VPM)
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Governor Northam present deer offering.
The tradition of tribute in lieu of taxes for the Mattaponi and Pamunkey tribes began in 1677 with the Treaty of Middle Plantation. (Roberto Roldan/VPM)
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Since 1677, two of Virginia’s indigenous tribes have given the governor a tribute in exchange for their autonomy and protection. The tradition continued with a ceremony at the Capitol Wednesday morning.

Leaders from the Mattaponi and Pamunkey tribes presented Governor Ralph Northam with two deer hunted on their respective reservations. The ceremony also included a traditional women’s dance from members of the Mattaponi tribe.

Speaking at the ceremony, Governor Ralph Northam said it is important that Virginia recognize its indigenous peoples, especially as the state remembers the 400th anniversary of the first enslaved Africans arriving on its shores.

“Their stories are intertwined,” Northam said. “We must always make sure we are telling the full and true story of our complex history as we continue to build a new story here in Virginia.”

Northam also highlighted the state’s ongoing support for the tribes. In August, the Mattaponi signed an agreement with the state nearly doubling its 150-acre reservation in King William County. 

The tradition of tribute instead of monetary taxes began 342 years ago with the Treaty of Middle Plantation. There are eleven officially recognized tribes in Virginia, but only the Mattaponi and Pamunkey were given land reservations under the treaty. 

Pamunkey Chief Robert Gray thanked the more than 100 people that attended the ceremony, saying he was honored to continue the tradition for his people.

“Going back through history 342 years, and realizing I’m standing here as the latest of all the Pamunkey chiefs that have been doing this, it always makes me think hard about that and appreciate the honor of holding this office,” he said.