After years of preparing the necessary historical, legal, genealogical and anthropological evidence to fully document its petition for federal acknowledgment, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, located on the Pamunkey Indian Reservation, Virginia, filed its petition with the Office of Federal Acknowledgment, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) on October 14, 2010. It is the only Indian Tribe located in the Commonwealth of Virginia to have filed a fully documented petition. Established no later than 1646, the Pamunkey Indian Reservation is located next to the Pamunkey River, and adjacent to King William County, Virginia. The Reservation comprises approximately 1,200 acres and is the oldest inhabited Indian reservation in America.

The history of the Pamunkey people is rich and well documented. In the course of collecting evidence for the federal acknowledgment petition, researchers compiled more than a thousand documents recording their existence from the period of first European contact through the present. These documents comprise official censuses, correspondence between the Pamunkeys and officials of the Commonwealth and U.S. governments, numerous newspaper stories, church and school records, books by prominent scholars, popular authors, and federal officials, memoirs and much more. Because of these rich resources, continuous, detailed genealogies have been created for the Pamunkey Tribal members, which trace their lineage back over two hundred years.

Notably, documents have been preserved both in the United States and England that show the continual existence of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe as an independent sovereign since the first visit of Capt. John Smith in 1607, when the English settled Jamestown. At this time, Powhatan, father of Pocahontas, ruled a vast empire which included the great and powerful Pamunkey Indians who were at the core of his empire. A Treaty relationship between the Pamunkeys and Great Britain in 1646, followed by the Treaty of Middle Plantation in 1677, is still honored between the Pamunkeys and the Commonwealth of Virginia. One expression of this continuing relationship is the annual tribute ceremony at Richmond, Virginia where deer and other wild game are presented to the Virginia Governor by the Pamunkey Chief and members of Tribal Council.

The Tribe has survived intact as an identifiable Indian tribe, although they are not yet federally acknowledged. Tribal existence does not depend on federal acknowledgment. It is, however, necessary to establish a government-to-government relationship between the Tribe and the Federal government, which allows the Tribe access to federal services and benefits. The Tribe’s petition documents their continued existence from 1789 to the present and their self-governance throughout this time, which meets the federal acknowledgment regulations.

The Pamunkey Chief and Tribal Council state that “Current Pamunkey Tribal members respect and appreciate what our ancestors have accomplished since first European contact, especially their sustained and successful efforts to maintain the lands, identity and sovereignty that have belonged to the Pamunkey Indians for thousands of years. We believe that federal acknowledgment is the natural means to continue those traditions and honor the ancestors who have given us our birthright. We look forward to the day our existence as an Indian Tribe is formally acknowledged by the United States.”

The Native American Rights Fund (NARF) has represented the Pamunkey Indian Tribe in this effort since 1988, joined by the law firm of Tilden McCoy, LLC this year. For any questions, please contact Robert Gray, Chief, Pamunkey Indian Tribe, 804.339.1629 or; Tribe’s legal counsels: Mark C. Tilden, Tilden McCoy, LLC at, 303.323.1922 or 1942 Broadway, Suite 314, Boulder, Colorado 80302, or David Gover, NARF,, 303.447.8760 or 1506 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80302.

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