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Quickie: Columnist fail

November 24, 2010

This is another crosspost from Dreamwidth.

I sometimes read Dan Casey’s blog at the Roanoke Times site. He’s gotten on my nerves several times before, but nothing like this.

He runs a weekly photo caption contest, and last week‘s was a doozy.


A photo of Governor Bob McDonnell with tribal representatives in regalia, by Michaele White, Governor’s Photographer. Said representatives’ names and offices were not even specified, unlike old Smirky Bob.

This appears to be the annual ceremonial rent payment to the Governor of Virginia, which has been going on for 300+ years. It started out specifying beaver pelts–at about the time of the Beaver Wars (which did spill down into Virginia)–but is more likely these days to consist of deer and turkeys. The Virginian-Pilot article took an interesting approach to why it’s continued:

As the settlement grew stronger, tributes became more symbolic – a sign of a tribe’s submission to the new government. After a while, there was no need for that, either. The tribes were broken, no longer a concern.

There’s every chance the annual tribute would have ended long ago if it weren’t for the Indians themselves. They kept delivering.

I can’t find the book right now, but there was an interesting story in We’re Still Here: Contemporary Virginia Indians Tell Their Stories, from a man whose father had been partly responsible for making the ceremonial tribute when hunting was bad, IIRC in the 1930s. Both deer and turkeys were still very scarce from earlier overhunting (not so much by the “Powhatan” folks, much as they’ve been blamed; there weren’t that many of them left!)–and there was also a drought. That year, working together, tribal members couldn’t get any turkeys or deer in time. So they ended up buying a few symbolic turkeys from a farmer, out of (very understandable) concern that otherwise they’d be chucked off their land for not paying the ridiculous and humiliating symbolic rent for the first time in at least 250 years. It always served the purpose of displaying “submission to the new government”–at said government’s insistence. And since there is still a Governor of Virginia, even if the larger government has changed, those terms still hold. Only one side is allowed to break treaties.

Then there are the recognition issues, common east of the Mississippi: no treaties with the U.S. government means no basis for federal recognition, without an act of Congress. The British Crown does not count. From Paper runs series on Virginia tribal recognition:

The tribes were the first to greet the European settlers at Jamestown. They also signed a treaty in 1677 with the Queen of England and have maintained ties to the nation.

But the tribes remain unrecognized by the U.S. A bill that passed the House last week and is working its way through the Senate could finally change the situation.

“We were here first,” Kenneth Branham, the chief of the Monacan Nation, told the paper. “We should be holding meetings to decide whether to recognize the European races here – not the other way around. It just really galls you.”

The tribes are mainly concerned about federal funding and acquiring land. The bill ensures they can follow the land-into-trust process but contains some limits. It also bars the tribes from engaging in gaming under federal or state law.

That bit of extortion (“we’ll only give you recognition if you agree to give up some of your legal rights”) is a pretty serious sovereignty erosion, popular as those clauses are these days. Also, that was written last year; I ran across another article from last month: Pamunkey tribe seeks federal recognition (and no doubt will be waiting for a very long time):

While the Pamunkey are seeking recognition from the federal government through an administrative process, six other Virginia tribes are seeking federal recognition through an act of Congress. They are the Chickahominy Tribe, Chickahominy Indian Tribe Eastern Division, the Upper Mattaponi, the Rappahannock Tribe, the Monacan Tribe and the Nansemond Tribe…An eighth tribe, the Mattaponi, which also has a reservation, has not sought formal federal recognition.

The state-recognized tribes have very, very little of their original land left. There are only two fragments of the original Crown trust reservations left, the Mattaponi and Pamunkey–and eight state-recognized tribes. (The Tutelo were part of the same federation as the Monacans, but did not give the British diplomatic recognition. So most of the western part of the state is screwed that way. There are more than eight remaining nations in Virginia.) It’s a very galling situation anyway, especially having gotten the much-vaunted first permanent English settlement in North America. Camping on the “Powhatan Confederation” folks was the very beginning of the British Empire.

OK, maybe a bit heavy on the background, but some knowledge is necessary to get the full effect of the fail.

The winning entry for that caption contest?

Indian # 1: We make big wampum from casino one day…
Indian # 2: We make even bigger wampum when we go into liquor store business…
Indian # 3: Shhhhh! Don’t say anything until he’s finished signing…

by Elena

In case anyone was wondering just how popular ignorance and racism are, there you go. (Liquor stores?!) I don’t expect much these days, but it was an extra slap in the face, coming from a self-consciously liberal columnist. No, we’re just not real people. The comments are about what you’d expect.

And just in time for Thanksgiving–’tis the season, I suppose…

I ran across that the other night, and my eyes are still trying to bulge out of my head, looking at it again. I’m not so much pissed off at Dan Casey (though I am that, too), as freshly appalled at the general public levels of smugness and contempt. And it’s not like Roanoke is somehow devoid of Native people.

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