Native American Reservations in Virginia

the Mattaponi Reservation on the Mattaponi River is on the opposide side of King William County from the Pamunkey Reservation on the Pamunkey River
the Mattaponi Reservation on the Mattaponi River is on the opposite side of King William County from the Pamunkey Reservation on the Pamunkey River
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

Virginia has two state-recognized reservations, both located on tributaries of the York River. The land within those two reservations was first designated in the 17th Century as an area where the remnants of Powhatan's paramount chiefdom would retain control, but the original acreage has been reduced substantially since then.

No Federal reservations for Native Americans have ever been created in Virginia, because no treaties were signed between Virginia's tribes and the Federal government to end a war. Reservations west of the Mississippi River were usually commitments of land made by the Federal government during treaty negotiations. Federal officials promised to cease fighting and to provide supplies, in exchange for promises by defeated Native American groups to move to reservations.

The last major military conflict involving Native Americans in Virginia occurred in Bacon's Rebellion in 1676, a century before the United States was created. The Treaty of Middle Plantation at the end of that conflict was signed in 1677 and expanded to include more tribes in 1680. Section III defined the colonial "land for peace" strategy:1

That all Indians who are in Amity with Us, and have not Land sufficient to Plant upon, be (upon Information) forthwith provided for, and Land laid out and Confirmed to them as aforesaid, never to be disturbed therein, or taken from them, so long as they own, keep and maintain their due Obedience and Subjection to His Majesty, His Governour and Government, and Amity and Friendship towards the English.

By the time the Articles of Confederation were ratified in 1781 and Virginia officially became part of new nation, various Native American groups in Virginia already had been destroyed, expelled, or restricted to very limited areas by state and local officials. The Native American wars and displacement in Virginia were conducted by state and local officials. The US Congress never ratified any treaties with Virginia-based tribal groups, and no reservations were created within the state through any Federal process.

When Virginia's colonial leaders made decisions about where Native Americans could live within the state, the closest thing to a national government at that time was a committee of officials in London who had been appointed by the king to oversee the colonies. Whenever Virginia officials revised/ignored various promises and approved the sale of lands that were supposed to be preserved for Native American occupation, the tribes could not invoke any Federal treaties to obtain oversight or protection by the national government.

The Pamunkey Reservation, first created in 1646, was divided between two tribal groups in 1894. The Mattaponi tribal reservation is located on the Mattaponi River, while the Pamunkey tribal reservation is about ten miles southwest on the Pamunkey River at Pamunkey Neck.

Most of the lands once defined as "reserved" for Native Americans has been transferred out of their control. The General Assembly gave a 5,000-acre grant in Gloucester County on the Piankatank River to the Kiskiaks (Chiskiaks) in 1649, but colonists encroached on that property and by 1683 there was no longer an organized Kiskiak tribe. Reservations established for the Wiccocomico, Gingaskin, and Nottoway also have disappeared.2

Pamunkey Neck in King William County, site of today's reservation for the Pamunkey tribe on the Pamunkey River
Pamunkey Neck in King William County, site of today's reservation for the Pamunkey tribe on the Pamunkey River
Source: US Fish and Wildlife Service, Wetlands Mapper

Colonists acquired title to lands controlled by Native Americans in various ways. Unlike the English who landed at Jamestown, William Penn initially purchased lands from the original occupants. By the 1700's, that tradition in Pennsylvania was replaced with acquisitions through deceit, such as the Walking Purchase and treaties with Native American groups with only a marginal claim to lands being ceded.

Teedyuscung, who claimed to be the "King of the Delawares" and encouraged Native American opposition to the British during the French and Indian War, made clear in a 1756 speech that warfare was triggered by the land hunger of the colonists. He offered an alternative solution to displacing the tribes (emphasis added):3

The Land is the cause of our Differences[,] that is our being unhappily turned out of the land is the cause, and tho the first settlers might purchase the lands fairly yet they did not act well nor do the Indians Justice for they ought to have reserved some place for the Indians

English officials claimed ownership of lands in North America through the Right of Discovery, a legal concept that justified occupation without compensation. Virginia colonists gradually obtained title to nearly all Native American lands through conquest, through legally-adopted treaties with the tribes, and through a variety of extra-legal mechanisms that forced people to abandon territory used for settlements, farming, hunting, and gathering of wild foods.

For example, in the 1600's colonists who settled near Native American towns could release pigs and horses that destroyed Native American corn fields which were not protected from grazing by fences. When occupants of a Native American town left on a seasonal hunt in the Fall, nearby settlers could claim the land had been abandoned and obtain colonial land patents to establish new ownership and start planting tobacco.

Some colonists were granted patents in anticipation of Native Americans abandoning their towns. The Portobacco group crossed the Potomac River in the 1650's to avoid the increasing number of colonists arriving in Maryland, and settled near the Rappahannock River. That Portobacco settlement survived until 1704, over 50 years since a patent had been issued to an English claimant. The owner of that patent ultimately spurred the remnants of the Portobaccos to move elsewhere, after the Virginia governor declined to protect the Native American claim to the land.4

land-hungry colonists pushed several different Native American groups, including the Rappahannocks, to Portobago in the second half of the Seventeenth Century
land-hungry colonists pushed several different Native American groups, including the Rappahannocks, to Portobago in the second half of the Seventeenth Century
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

A formal reservation provided more legal protection of community land. Once a reservation was officially abolished by the Virginia General Assembly, community ownership was terminated. Land parcels that were occupied within the reservation boundaries were allocated to individuals, and that allowed non-natives to purchase the parcels from Native Americans one by one as families needed money. Such sales ultimately displaced all of the original Native American inhabitants from former reservation sites.

Starting in the 20th Century, some Native American tribes have acquired land to establish a base of operations for communal activities in Virginia. The Monacans were the first, when they obtained title to lands on Bear Mountain in Amherst County adjacent to the Episcopalian Mission School established in 1908 for their education.

the Monacan Tribe has re-established a base by acquiring ancestral land in the Blue Ridge mountains
the Monacan Tribe has re-established a base by acquiring ancestral land (red X) in the Blue Ridge mountains
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

Since then, all of the tribes officially recognized by Virginia have explored the potential of creating tribally-owned land, and most have succeeded. However, there are no treaties that define those acquired properties controlled by other tribes as officially-recognized "reservations." The Pamunkey and Mattaponi tribes are still the only two in Virginia to have official, state-recognized reservations.

Since ratification of the US Constitution in 1789, the Federal government has signed treaties with Native American tribes and considered them to be sovereign nations in some ways. Federal authority limits the power of state or Federal agencies to regulate activities within the boundaries of Federally-established reservations.

Most Native American reservations established by the Federal government are west of the Mississippi River. Eastern tribes were disrupted and displaced in the colonial period, forcing Native Americans westward. Cherokees, some of whom once lived in Virginia, were marched west against their will and resettled in Oklahoma.

The Federal government has also granted citizenship to Native Americans born on those reservations and assumes it has a "trust responsibility" for Federally-recognized tribes. A national commission on gambling noted the confusing status of tribal sovereignty:5

Under the U.S. Constitution and subsequent U.S. law and treaties with Indian nations, Native Americans enjoy a unique form of sovereignty. Chief Justice John Marshall, who was instrumental in defining the constitutional status of Indians, described the legal relationship between the federal government and the tribes as "unlike that of any other two people in existence."

Since 1607, legal and extra-legal processes have deprived Native Americans of their land claims in Virginia. Treaties legally documented the changes in the rights of Native Americans vs. English colonists to occupy or travel through defined areas of Virginia. Several formal actions established reservations for Native American tribes to hunt, farm, and live unmolested by the newest immigrants from England.

There are no Federal treaties with Virginia's tribal groups, and the Native American reservations in Virginia were not created by any act of the US Congress. The Federal government grants no special fishing rights or water rights for Virginia tribes. Lawsuits about off-reservation rights are common in the Pacific Northwest, but Virginia tribes have no Federal guarantees for fishing rights in rivers or the Chesapeake Bay.

The official status of the Pamunkey and Mattaponi reservations was formalized by the Treaty of Middle Plantation in 1677 when Native Americans signed a deal with the colony of Virginia, long before the creation of the United States. The Federal government finally granted Federal recognition to the Pamunkey Tribe in 2015, providing access to special programs offered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but that did not change the status of the state-established reservation. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in 2006:6

Although many pre-Independence agreements between the British Crown and Native Americans were explicitly ratified by the United States under the Articles of Confederation and/or the Constitution, the 1677 Agreement was never ratified by the United States. Thus, the 1677 Agreement is not a treaty between the United States and an Indian Tribe... At most, the 1677 Agreement is a contract between Virginia and a group of people living in Virginia.

State recognition and formal creation of a reservation does not grant a Virginia tribe exclusive police jurisdiction over the lands within that reservation. The Attorney General of Virginia has declared that the state of Virginia owns the lands in fee on which the Pamunkey and Mattaponi reservations are located.

The tribes have exclusive use, but can not sell the land without state approval. The Attorney General also ruled that the King William County sheriff’s office "may exercise same law-enforcement authority on Pamunkey and Mattaponi Indian reservations as elsewhere in county — may serve legal process, arrest warrants, and subpoenas, and investigate misdemeanors and felonies."7

Formal recognition by the state does not guarantee that government officials will defer to Native American claims of special cultural rights on lands outside a reservation. Virginia courts ruled against a Mattaponi claim that the 1677 treaty should block consideration of a dam and reservoir proposed by Newport News on Cohoke Creek. The Mattaponi claimed that the cultural impacts of the proposed King William Reservoir were excessive, but state courts refused to rule that the 1677 treaty could be used to stop construction of the reservoir.8

The Corps of Engineers ultimately refused to issue the necessary "Section 404" wetlands permit for the King William Reservoir project. The Federal agency ruled that Newport News had failed to demonstrate a public need for the water that was great enough to justify the environmental impacts.

the Doeg tribe had a town on the Rappahannock River in 1670 (downstream of where Fredericksburg would be built later on the Fall Line), before any reservations were created in Virginia (NOTE: map is oriented so north is to the right, not towards the top)
the Dogue tribe had a town on the Rappahannock River in 1670 (downstream of where Fredericksburg would be built later on the Fall Line), before any reservations were created in Virginia
(NOTE: map is oriented so north is to the right, not towards the top)
Source: Library of Congress, Virginia and Maryland as it is planted and inhabited this present year 1670 by Augustine Herrman

Pamunkey and Mattaponi Reservations on the Middle Peninsula

Wiccocomico Reservation on the Northern Neck

Gingaskin Reservation on the Eastern Shore

Nottoway Reservation - The Circle and Square

Native American Land Claims in Virginia

Key Treaties Defining the Boundaries Separating English and Native American Territories

State and Federal Recognition of Native American Tribes in Virginia

Links

fifty years after the creation of the United States, the Cherokee and most other tribes had been forced to move west of the Mississippi River - and there were no Native American reservations in the southeastern states
fifty years after the creation of the United States, the Cherokee and most other tribes had been forced to move west of the Mississippi River - and there were no Native American reservations in the southeastern states
Source: Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States, Indian Reservations, 1840 (Plate 35a, digitized by University of Richmond)

References

1. "Articles of Peace (1677)," Encyclopedia Virginia, https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Articles_of_Peace_1677; "What was the 'Treaty of Middle Plantation?'," Mariners' Museum, http://www.marinersmuseum.org/sites/micro/cbhf/native/nam026.html (last checked August 25, 2017)
2. Helen C. Rountree, Pocahontas's People: The Powhatan Indians of Virginia Through Four Centuries, University of Oklahoma Press, 190, pp.116-117; Helen C. Rountree and E. Randolph Turner III, Before and After Jamestown, University Press of Florida, 2002, p.172
3. Daniel K. Richter, Trade, Land, Power: The Struggle for Eastern North America, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013, p.5
4. Helen C. Rountree and E. Randolph Turner III, Before and After Jamestown, University Press of Florida, 2002, pp.172-173
5. "National Gambling Impact Study Commission Report," National Gambling Impact Study Commission, 1999, p.6-3, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/ngisc/reports/6.pdf (last checked February 24, 2015)
6. The Mattaponi Indian Tribe and Carl T. Lone Eagle Custalow vs. Commonwealth Of Virginia, Supreme Court of the United States, 2006, pp.1-2, http://universitycounsel.cnu.edu/supremecourt/Mattaponi%20Indian%20Tribe%20v.%20Virginia--Brief%20in%20Opposition%20to%20Cert.pdf (last checked September 9,. 2012)
7. "Opinion #00-076 for The Honorable J.S. Walton, Sheriff for King William County," by Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, September 28, 2001 www.oag.state.va.us/media%20center/Opinions/2001opns/00-076.htm (last checked May 28, 2012)
8. "Virginia Supreme Court Upholds Issuance of Permits for King William Reservoir, Alliance to Save the Mattaponi v. Virginia, 621 S.E.2d 78 (Va. 2005)," National Sea Grant Law Center, http://nsglc.olemiss.edu/SandBar/SandBar4/4.4reservoir.htm (last checked May 27, 2012)

large Federally-established reservations portrayed on this map show how Native Americans were displaced from the eastern portion of the United States
large Federally-established reservations portrayed on this map show how Native Americans were displaced from the eastern portion of the United States
Source: US Geological Survey (USGS), Reference and Outline Maps of the United States - Indian Lands


"Indians" of Virginia - The Real First Families of Virginia
Virginia Places