After 400 Years, the Pamunkeys Shall Rise Again

Pamunkey Chief Robert Gray. Photo credit: WTJU

Wow, ever since winning federal recognition as an Indian tribe, the Pamunkey Indians are on a tear. Last week I  highlighted PamunkeyNet, a proposal to bring broadband Internet service to rural counties in the Chesapeake Bay region. Now, we find out that the Pamunkeys are thinking bigger… way bigger.

According to Daily Press, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe is looking for land to build what it envisions as a $700 million gaming center that features shows, a spa and a hotel. The project would employ some 4,000 full-time workers and would have a $200 million payroll. Not bad when you consider that the Pamunkeys number only 380 members!

It’s hard to know what to make of all this activity. Since securing their federal recognition, the Pamunkeys have been conducting negotiations with investor groups that specialize in helping Indian tribes launch similar ventures. The value proposition of Indian tribes is their ability to access federal funds and their exemption from many state and local restrictions.

I’ll be the first to admit to an anti-Pamunkey bias, dating back to 1675 and the original Bacon’s Rebellion. Nathaniel Bacon led a movement comprised mainly of poor farmers and white and black former indentured servants against the corrupt regime of Governor Sir William Berkeley. The Pamunkeys sided with Berkeley. The frontier was notorious for tit-for-tat raids and retaliations between English settlers and Indian tribes, and it is fashionable among historians now to accuse Bacon’s forces of making indiscriminate attacks on innocent Indians, including the Pamunkey. Bah! Politically correct thinking infects everything! I reject it. Cross Nathaniel Bacon for whatever reason, and you’re on my black list.

I bear modern-day Pamunkeys no ill will for the deeds of their misguided ancestors. But I find myself astonished by the sudden good fortune about to be showered upon a handful of tribesmen by virtue of their ancient lineage. Whether they succeed in building a casino or not, it seems they have hit the proverbial jackpot.

Judging by the Daily Press article, the Pamunkey tribe has an enlightened attitude. It is using its privileged status to help the broader community by expanding senior housing, rural broadband services, and job creation.

“We don’t live in teepees; we’re just your neighbors,” said Chief Robert Gray. “We’ve got jobs in Richmond, Mechanicsville, Williamsburg. We’re retirees, kids … right now we can use HUD (U.S. Housing and Urban Development) funds, the Indian Health Service. But wouldn’t it be great if we paid for our own health care — more self-sufficiency, more self government.”

The Pamunkeys sound like good neighbors. And I respect the fact that they have managed to maintain a distinct identity for hundreds of years. But in the irony of ironies, they are adopting a strategy that’s become as American as mom and apple pie — working the leviathan state for privileges and favors. They’re joining the ranks of the rent seekers. What a shame.

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18 responses to “After 400 Years, the Pamunkeys Shall Rise Again”

  1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    You are spot on, Jim – and imagine the quality and intentions of all of those white folks who are rushing in to cash in on the Jackpots, including those in state and local government and about every kind of consultant imaginable. That too was plain from your earlier broadband article. Nothing good will come out of these Jackpots, save greed, incompetence and corruption, absent a miracle.

  2. Andrew Jackson dealt with the Indian Question decisively and, many felt even then, brutally. We are still making amends for it. What will our modern day brutalist, Donald Trump, make of this? Or the people who elected him?

    I can’t blame those few dozen Pamunkeys from cashing in on the source of riches for so many other obscure native-American clans and splinter groups who now find themselves the beneficiaries of government-bureaucracy-mandated favoritism with government money to back their ventures. But, does Virginia owe them atonement from past sins? Does Congress?
    If this, then why not a set-aside of farmland and an exemption from local zoning laws and taxes to every descendent of a survivor of a native-American raid on a frontier settlement? Why not fiscal recompense to every descendent of a slave? To every southern farmer who lost a slave at the end of the Civil War? Where does reversing the past become so exponentially difficult to do fairly that it becomes arbitrary and capricious, in violation of the very principles we claim to be upholding?

    Showering these fiscal exemptions and unearned legal favors upon a few hundred of our “neighbors” is not a remedy for the past but the creation of another inequity for the future.

  3. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Which is better, OMP or SPM? OPM being the “other people’s money” that may be subsidizing the broadband project and SPM being the “stupid people’s money” that will feed the casino (and siphon away the SPM now going to the state lottery.) This is what the whole recognition argument was always about, whether they denied it or not. I don’t blame them for cashing in, but blame those who made it possible by creating these special advantages.

    You need to dig deeper into this, Jim – assuming they do build a casino on reservation land, how it is taxed? Will it have major financial advantages over competing venues that are not related to some recognized tribe? I long heard complaints that businesses on recognized tribal lands would have many competitive advantages.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    I suppose no one feels that this is reparations for their treatment by our government in years past that ended up with a large number of Native Americans living in poverty without education or medical care?

    There’s a lot to learn about the issue. Native Americans don’t see this as a hand-out or “cashing in” but instead what they were owed by the taking of their lands and herding them onto “reservations”.

    Yes.. they are playing to the stupid people who also buy lottery tickets, play bingo at Fire stations, and visit Vegas and Atlantic City. Is there a problem letting Native Americans play in that game also?

    interesting reading… more to be learned….

    10 Things You Need to Know about Indian Reservation Gambling

    is there a certain amount of “wealth envy” here? 😉

    I would advocate one change – all profits have to go for health care and education for tribal members..nothing else.

    1. Defintely agree with your “one change”: that’s my point really, most of this newfound, subsidized wealth will not even go to the Pamunkeys but to casino operators licensed by the tribe. This is big business operating in ways denied most such big businesses; the loopholes “to benefit the tribe” in fact benefit the tribe far less than direct handouts would.

  5. djrippert Avatar

    Rent seekers? The federal government obviously does not prohibit gambling in the United States. Drive across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge from Virginia to Maryland and you’ll quickly land right on top of a big new casino that has nothing to do with Native Americans.

    The Commonwealth of Virginia prohibits casino gambling in Virginia. Lotteries are OK. Betting on horses is fine. But not casino gambling. No way. Our betters in Richmond know what kinds of gambling to tolerate and what kinds not to tolerate. If the gaming industry wants to open casinos in Virginia they can damn well get in line and start handing out bushels of money to our General Assembly members. Those gaming companies need to learn The Virginia Way. Until then, no casinos in Virginia. Unless, of course, the federal government intervenes.

    The Pamunkey used the federal government to get Virginia off it’s back. Now they propose to do what hundreds of others would do if not for our hapless General Assembly – raise money and build a casino. Good for them. God knows there are a lot of people who would like to kick the General Assembly out of our local business in Virginia. Glad to see the Pamunkey get it done.

    I’m not sure how raising money for a casino make the Pamunkey “rent seekers”. It’s more that those of us who haven’t figured out how to kick the General Assembly to the curb are the real clowns in this whole affair. One hopes that if the Pamunkey build a casino they will put up a statue of a hand flipping the bird and point it at Richmond.

    1. The best way for them to flip the bird would be to build the casino and then power all of the neon and slots with electricity purchased from someone other than Dominion. Oh I can hear the howling now as the ink-stained wretches who write legislation in the bowels of Dominion’s headquarters building attempt to get around the Feds to ensure that Dominion “gets a piece of the action”.

  6. This suggests a new stratagem: persuade the Pamunkey tribe to grant “honorary” lifetime membership to any Virginia applicant upon a payment equal to half of last year’s Virginia income tax. Every motivated Virginian would do so, and would achieve immediate exemption from those onerous State laws such as taxation and zoning and business licensing. We’d have a State within the State, with the only rules that matter fixed by the tribal council. The GA’s sphere of influence and tax base would shrivel. Nirvana, eh?

    As if the Council, so enlarged, would have less politics than the GA . . . .

    1. djrippert Avatar

      It was unfair of the colonists to take Northern Virginia from the Native American inhabitants who lived there. In recognition of that transgression we are giving all land in Northern Virginia to the sole surviving American Indian tribe in Virginia – the Pamunkey. The only pre-requisite to this much overdue land transfer is that all current citizens of Northern Virginia become full members of the Pamunkey tribe.

      Casino gambling and marijuana dispensaries will be immediately legalized with outlets for both located on lands of the New Pamunkey Nation bordering the states of Virginia and Maryland. The Northern Virginia Pamunkey will, of course, welcome visitors from Virginia to these casinos and dispensaries and will tax the bejesus out of both.

      1. Sounds like a Plan. But will the Rest Of Virginia be absorbed by King William County, where the reservation is located? I love the idea of schoolchildren in the other United States learning about how Virginia moved its capital from Richmond to the largest town in that County, “Central Garage.”

        1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
          Reed Fawell 3rd

          Is this not the county where UVa. is putting its big solar panel farm that UVA plainly did not want in its own county so it shipped the metal mess across the state the Indians?

          Now too the Pamunkey nation is the home of UVA’s solar panel farm and gambling casinos. What a commentary on modern day politics in the great state that was home to the nations greatest founding fathers.

          1. Yes indeedy! The “burial ground” for more things than ancestors.

  7. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    I like the ability of the Tribe to circumvent Virginia’s backward gambling laws. But if we get to restitution, how about some payment to the descendants of Union soldiers who beat Virginia and the rest of the South enabling Congress to pass the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution? Two of my 2nd great grandfathers wore Union Blue – 69th Pennsylvania and 9th Indiana Legion.

  8. LarrytheG Avatar

    I’m of the view that if Virginia can run lotteries and county fire depts and VFWs can do Bingo.. that the Pamunky’s can do Casinos.

    Although it’s my understanding that they’re NOT going to build on their reservation – ” Pamunkey Indian Tribe looking for site for a $700 million resort, gaming facility and Fredericksburg area could be in the running”

    1. A Fredericksburg location merely underscores that this is not about helping today’s Indian Reservation residents, but about selling off State political privileges and exemptions from State burdens for corporate gain, under the guise of “reparations for past injustices.”

  9. LarrytheG Avatar

    Well again…. Virginia pays a concessionaire to run their lottery and many of the State’s local fire dept and VFW also use concessionaires to run their games so I’m fine with the Pamunky’s running their own affairs to include choosing others to run their games – the good, bad and ugly of it but no different than we allow other groups to do the same.

    I’d say, in general, there are more than 300 Indian Gaming Casinos in the US

    and they’re pretty much NOT in the news over corruption and mismanagement … any more or any less than non-Indian casinos in Las Vegas or Atlantic City or other places .. so again – we ought to recognize the equality of Native Americans to conduct their own affairs and not treat them as if we are doing them favors or giving them special consideration.

    They are ENTITLED by law to operate casinos and as a people who have been abused and harmed in the past, victims of massive institutional racism – their ability to operate casinos is a fair consideration for those past deeds against them – in my view.

    I think there still exists some level of societal condescension and stereotyping towards Indians/Native American and we really do need to get over it.

    They are actually more American than most of us and they are more than capable of handling their own affairs and even if they weren’t, they’re no worse than the corruption we see in white man casinos and gaming.

    They do net money for their benefit – just as Virginia nets money from the lottery and fire depts and VFWs do also… without any big hooray about it. It’s not perfect.. it’s got it’s good and bad – we just need to admit that Indians should be allowed to be just as human as the rest of us – good, bad and ugly.

  10. “I think there still exists some level of societal condescension and stereotyping towards Indians/Native American and we really do need to get over it.” —

    Well, yes; but just as in all matters involving societal typecasting like race and religion and immigration, and gender too, legislated equal treatment is necessary to break the back of the cretins and bullies who want to “keep them in their place” but we all know that mandating conduct is a hell of a way to fix social problems. And I feel very strongly that government reparations to descendents of those who were wronged in the past, to an entire class of people, is counterproductive: it destroys good will, undermines efforts to put the past behind, and generally amplifies lingering resentments all around. It’s ‘salt in the wound.’ And that’s what is going on here.

  11. LarrytheG Avatar

    the problem is that damage done – can last for generations…
    how do you deal with that?

    salt in the wounds -yes … for the generational victims also…. no?

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