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Nansemond Indians seek to reconstruct former Mattanock Town

SUFFOLK, Va. - Chief Barry Bass says he feels their presence every time he walks out on the grounds at Lone Star Lakes.

The ancestors, he said, have spoken to him many times there. He knows they walk around the Nansemond River edge each day and watch the Native people when the Nansemond Indian Tribe holds its annual pow wow at the lakes.

Because this place is sacred, Bass and other Nansemond Indians want to reconstruct a village on the 104-acre property at Lone Star Lakes on the site of the former Nansemond Mattanock Town. The village existed in 1608 before the English drove out the Nansemonds and placed many of them on a reservation.

For more than 10 years, the Nansemonds have tried to obtain a piece of land for a cultural center, a Mattanock town Indian village, tribal offices, pow wow grounds and a meeting place.

Last year, the tribe asked the city to give them 104 acres at this sacred place at Lone Star Lakes. Though their request for the land was a long shot, Suffolk's task force on the proposed Mattanock Town property, comprised of mostly non-Indian members, has told city officials that the site should be given to the Nansemonds.

"We're very positive," Bass said "Hopefully, when we go back to City Council, we'll move along."

Now, all that the Nansemonds need is the Suffolk City Council's approval. The issue is expected to go before the City Council before the end of the year, and officials say the city most likely will approve the request, giving the Nansemonds free of charge 104 acres of their ancestral lands. Such action would be the first time in U.S. history that a local government has given Indians land without a court order, some said.

"It's quite a special place," Bass said of Lone Star Lakes. "There are special feelings there. All the other tribes who come to our powwows comment on it being a sacred place. The ancestors are there. That's why we want to go back there."

Suffolk's mayor, E. Dana Dickens III supports the project.

"It certainly can be a big part of Suffolk's tourism," Dickens said of the proposed museum and village.

Over the past year, the Nansemonds have had to submit drawings at the city's request, outlining what their plans at the site are. Because the city has plans for a marina on the Nansemond River adjacent to the Nansemonds' proposed Mattanock Town, a few city officials for some time didn't want to give up the 104 acres. But the Nansemonds have city supporters like the mayor.

"The tribe prefers the Lone Star Lakes property," Dickens said. "We established a task force to look at the issue. I certainly support the project."

Dot Dalton, the Virginia coordinator for the Native American Resource Network in Denver, has facilitated the Mattanock Town project for the Nansemonds with Suffolk.

The tribe, Dalton said, was required to provide the Mattanock Town task force with a management plan, explaining the type of non-profit foundation the tribe will create once the property is deeded. The foundation, she said, will raise money, develop, construct and operate Mattanock Town with the approval of the Nansemond Indian Tribal Association Inc. and with the NITA in complete ownership of the land and all building structures.

"The deed would be to the tribe," Dalton said. "That's very important. In no way do we want the tribe not to own the land."

Although the Nansemonds would like to begin construction on the longhouses, they can't until they have a deed, Dalton said.

Nansemond Sandra McCready, who lives in Suffolk and manages the Nansemond's existing museum, said she wants Mattanock Town to portray Indian heritage and culture in a manner than hasn't been portrayed before.

"The Nansemonds and other Virginia Indian tribes have lost so much by trying to hide in the white man's world," she said. "That's why reconstructing Mattanock Town and obtaining the property at Lone Star Lakes is so important to us. The property has a special feeling there. If you talk to anyone who comes to our pow wows, the feeling, they say, is very spiritual."

The Nansemonds have enlisted the help of Dr. Helen Rountree, a retired anthropology professor at Old Dominion University in Norfolk and the author of "Pocahontas' People," in reconstructing Mattanock Town. Through Rountree's research, the Nansemonds and Rountree discovered Mattanock Town's original location.

Rountree said the Nansemonds had sought land for a tribal center for more than 10 years.

"They also need a reburial place for skeletal remains being held by museums in Virginia and by the Smithsonian," Rountree said.

The village, once created, would have longhouses dispersed throughout the trees and small gardens adjacent to the houses, Rountree said. The Nansemonds want to be as specific as possible, noting things such as the exact number of baskets hanging on the walls of the longhouses as well as assuring the longhouses are constructed by the dimensions from excavations and other research.

"We feel it's time we should be remembered and be able to build a future," Chief Bass said of the Mattanock Town reconstruction. "A lot of people don't know about our struggles. It's like we've been forgotten."