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City agrees to work with Nansemonds on land offer

SUFFOLK, Va. - After nearly securing a deal for more than 100 acres of sacred land to reconstruct the former village called Mattanock Town, the Nansemond Indians will meet Suffolk officials at the negotiating table - again.

At a June 30 press conference at Lone Star Lakes Lodge, Nansemond Chief Barry Bass announced the tribe's refusal of Suffolk's June 4 offer to lease eight acres of land for the Indian village project. With his announcement, Chief Bass shot an arrow into the soil then broke it in half - noting that Suffolk officials had broken their promises to the tribe.

He appeared before the Suffolk City Council two days later at the Council's July 2 meeting, announcing the tribe's refusal of what he dubbed an "ultimatum" by the city.

"We did not get a response from City Council; we did not get a discussion with City Council," said Chief Bass, who had been given 30 days to accept or reject the city's lease offer. "We got an ultimatum ... This marks the third time that we are directly communicating to the City Manager that a land lease is not acceptable."

Chief Bass told the City Council that "for years, the first stories of the early history of our ancestors, the Virginia Indians, were only told from the perspective of the Anglos, and those early stories were found to have been altered."

The information, he said, delivered to the Suffolk City Council that resulted in the city's June 4 resolution "was also altered."

After Chief Bass and two Mattanock supporters spoke for their allotted five minutes, Suffolk Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett directed City Manager Steve Herbert to continue working with the tribe on the project.

"The door hasn't been closed," Bennett said to Chief Bass.

Council members, Linda Johnson and Calvin B. Jones, also reinforced Bennett's comments, telling Chief Bass and others at the meeting that Mattanock Town would be good for the city's tourism.

After negotiating with Suffolk City officials for the past two years, the tribe nearly had a deal - 104 acres of land at no charge, sacred land where their ancestors lived called Mattanock Town.

Mattanock Town, featured on a 1600s map drawn by Capt. John Smith, sat in what is now the Lone Star Lakes property in the Chuckatuck borough of Suffolk along the Nansemond River. The tribe has held its annual pow wow there for 15 years, and it is where the Nansemonds want to build an authentic village, a cultural center and a museum.

In October, the Mattanock Town Joint Task Force, a city-appointed committee, unanimously voted in favor of giving the tribe the 104 acres of the city's surplus land at Lone Star Lakes. All the tribe needed at this point was Suffolk City Council's approval of the gift, so the tribe could secure a deed to the land. But in December, city officials reneged on their offer, instead insisting the tribe lease land in a joint city/tribe venture. Because city officials have wanted to build a marina at Lone Star Lakes and pave much of the land now populated by cedar trees for a parking lot, city officials in February then asked the tribe to lease four acres of land.

The city also requested the tribe submit a business plan before the project would go before the City Council for approval.

The city didn't request a business plan at the beginning of negotiations, said Dot Dalton, Mattanock Town project facilitator and the Native American Resource Network coordinator for Virginia. The tribe and the task force created a site plan, and the tribe was then to submit a management plan.

"You cannot write a business plan until you know the location," Dalton said.

Suffolk never requested a business plan from other groups that proposed projects on city property, according to former Suffolk City Council member, Marian Rogers. And without a deed to the land, the tribe couldn't create a business plan for any phase of its project, Chief Bass said.

"Ask your banker if they will loan you money for a start-up enterprise when the business location has not been determined and see how far you get," he said.

With negotiations at a stalemate, the Nansemonds made yet another proposal in a 30-page report in March; this time the tribe asked for 99 acres of the original proposal - leaving the city with five acres for a marina adjacent to the proposed tribal center. The proposal also included a March 18 letter from U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes of Virginia, who announced his support of the Mattanock Town project.

In its proposal, the tribe also asked to buy the land, agreed to return it to the city if the tribe ceased to exist and agreed to prohibit gambling or gaming casinos on the property should the tribe's request for federal recognition be granted.

Creating the authentic Mattanock Town along with the museum and cultural center would cost about $6 million. A lease, Chief Bass said, would allow the city to snatch the land after the tribe has invested a substantial amount of money.

"The Nansemond Tribe's interest in owning the land is to preserve and protect it," Chief Bass said. "The City Manager's and Mayor's interest [is] to have the cost of infrastructure improvements to support a marina and parking lots underwritten by us."

If negotiations with Suffolk fail, the tribe will explore other ways to obtain the land from Suffolk, Chief Bass said.

"And if not this land, then other land along the Nansemond River," he said. "And if not in Suffolk then in Chesapeake. There are too many opportunities for everyone involved to do the right thing, not to do it."

The tribe even asked the city to hold a referendum to find out from Suffolk residents what they want. But the city refused.

"The tribe has a pretty good idea about what the citizens of Suffolk want," said Nansemond R. Keith "Two Rivers Running" Smith at the June 30 press conference.

Assistant Chief Earl Bass added that there isn't an authentic Native American village on the East Coast, other than the one at Jamestown, which is presented from the English point of view.

Regent University's Graduate School of Business conducted a feasibility study for the Indian village analyzing the market, operations and financial feasibility, according to Dr. John E. Mulford, dean of the Graduate School of Business.

Because the university has a sizable international student population, Mulford said he has found that one of the interests of international students is the history of Native people in the United States.

"Mattanock Town could be an international attraction," he said. "When people from other countries visit the U.S. capitol in Washington, they most likely will travel to Suffolk to visit Mattanock Town."