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Nansemonds tackle heritage project

SUFFOLK, Va. - The Nansemond Indian Tribe says it must have a deed to sacred land at what is now called Lone Star Lakes no later than February to complete construction of an authentic Indian village before the 2007 Jamestown commemoration.

The tribe has worked with the city of Suffolk for the two and a half years, trying to secure a deed to sacred land at what is now called Lone Star Lakes for a cultural center, an authentic village called Mattanock town and grounds for its annual pow wow. Based on a map drawn in the 1600s, the former Nansemond Mattanock town was situated at Lone Star Lakes when the English first arrived.

But the tribe and the city reached a standstill a year ago when the city asked for a business plan. The tribe said it cannot complete one without having a deed to the now proposed 99 acres of land for the project. The city said it must see a business plan before it can hand over public land.

"Time is precious," Chief Bass told the council at a Dec. 3 meeting, asking for a deed by Feb. 4. "We have already lost some of our resources for this project because of the delays in land acquisition for the project."

City officials have supported the proposed Indian village, publicly acknowledging that it would preserve the Nansemonds sacred lands and bring economic development to the city.

"There are some significant advantages or reasons why this project is a good project," said Mayor E. Dana Dickens III. "They all relate around the heritage of the Nansemond tribe, but they also relate to tourism and economic development for the city."

Dickens said the city needs the business plan in order to determine what infrastructure the tribe needs the city to provide, and the city wants to know how the tribe will keep the project operating.

"The most important thing is how they plan to sustain it," Dickens said. "Building it is the easy part; sustaining it is the hard part. Before we can discuss giving away public property, we need to be sure what the project is and how it's going to work."

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Bass asked the city to place the tribe's deed transfer request on the agendas for the City Council's Jan. 7 and Jan. 21 meetings for public hearings and a final vote.

"Once the tribe has received a written commitment from the city for the Lone Star Lakes land acquisition, we will be able to finalize and present an updated master plan and a business plan for Mattanock town on this site. We will present these prior to the deed transfer."

The Virginia Council on Indians, a state agency, sent the City Council a letter asking it to return the sacred land to the tribe, and the Nansemonds also have support from researchers, who offer support, expertise and connections to federal and state funding. At its August pow wow, the tribe collected signatures from supporters in 61 Virginia cities and towns, 20 different states and four countries.

"News of the Nansemond and Mattanock town has already become international," Bass told the council.

Of the many supports, Dr. Helen Rountree, an anthropologist and retired professor at Old Dominion University; Dr. Danielle Morietti-Langholtz, also an anthropologist and director of the American Indian Resource Center at the College of William & Mary; and Ralph Earnhardt, the Virginia Tourism Corporation grants administrator, asked the council this month to give the land to the tribe.

Rountree, who spoke to the City Council Dec. 3, announced there's possibly funding from the National Park Service from its gateway project to support the Mattanock town project. Rountree, who has written extensively on Virginia Indians, provided assistance with the creation of the Jamestown Indian village, and she said the construction of a Mattanock town village isn't viewed as a rival - instead, she said Mattanock town will compliment the project.

The Nansemonds along with other Powhatan Indians, Bass said, ensured the survival of the English colony in the 1600s. Now, nearly 400 years later, it's the Jamestown Society, among many other organizations, that provides the Nansemonds with business support "to ensure our survival today," Bass said.

With 1.5 million tourists expected to visit Jamestown in 2007, Earnhardt told the city, "It's up to you whether you wish to participate in that playing field."

"While many communities are trying to create tourism, you have it here," he said. "I personally say don't think about what's politically correct. Think about what's correct."