Chief Sam Bass of the Nansemond Indian Nation. Photo: Nansemond Indian Nation

'Like dropping a bomb': Nansemond Indian Nation bashes another tribe's casino plan

The newly recognized Nansemond Indian Nation isn't happy about another tribe's plan for a casino in Virginia.

Chief Samuel Bass said no one consulted his people before the Pamunkey Tribe announced the project in the city of Norfolk. And that's a problem because the area is Nansemond territory.

"When we heard the Pamunkey were coming here," Bass told The Virginian-Pilot, "it was like dropping a bomb on us."

Nansemond headquarters are in Suffolk, only about 25 miles from the area in Norfolk that's being eyed for a casino. The close distance means the tribe most likely will have to be consulted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs if the Pamunkeys go forward with the land-into-trust process for the proposed establishment.

"Nearby Indian tribe means an Indian tribe with tribal Indian lands located within a 25-mile radius of the location of the proposed gaming establishment, or, if the tribe has no trust lands, within a 25-mile radius of its government headquarters," the BIA states in its Section 20 regulations, which implemented standards for new casino land-into-trust applications.

A conceptual rendering of a possible Pamunkey Tribe gaming resort in Norfolk, Virginia. Signs of the city's Naval shipyard can be seen in the background. Image: Pamunkey Tribe

But that's not the only hurdle. As a newly recognized tribe, the Pamunkeys will most likely have to deal with the fallout of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar.

According to the decade-old ruling, a tribe must have been "under federal jurisdiction" in 1934 to qualify for the land-into-trust process. The Pamunkeys didn't gain formal acknowledgment of their status until 2016.

Additionally, the Pamunkeys must demonstrate some sort of connection to the proposed gaming site. For example, it could be located "near where a significant number of tribal members reside" or "within a 25-mile radius of the tribe’s headquarters or other tribal governmental facilities that have existed at that location for at least 2 years at the time of the application for land-into-trust," according to the Section 20 regulations.

Pamunkey headquarters are about 88 miles north of Norfolk, so the distance might be a limiting factor. The Section 20 regulations, however, do not require an ancestral connection to the land, at least for a newly recognized tribe seeking an "initial reservation," which is likely what the Pamunkeys will be pursuing.

Either way, the Pamunkeys are in for a long wait: it took the Cowlitz Tribe more than a decade to resolve legal, political and other hurdles before opening a casino in Washington. The Cowlitz are the most recently recognized tribe to have land successfully placed in trust for a casino in the post-Carcieri era.

Of the lengthy process, Kathryn Rand, the co-director of the Institute for the Study of Tribal Gaming Law and Policy at the University of North Dakota, told The Virginian-Pilot "there's no doubt we're talking years."

The Nansemond Indian Nation does not have to worry about Carcieri because the 2018 law that recognizes its federal status authorizes the tribe to go through the land-into-trust process. But the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act also bars the tribe from engaging in gaming on any newly-acquired lands.

Section 606 of the law also limits the areas in which the tribe can acquire trust lands. The city of Norfolk is notably not on the list.

Read More on the Story
A new hurdle for a Pamunkey casino in Norfolk: A tribal challenge from the Nansemond (The Virginian-Pilot January 12, 2019)

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