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Virginia Council on Indians

Mattaponi Tribe

  Contact Information

1467 Mattaponi Reservation Circle
West Point, VA 23181
804.769.4508
804.769.0294 (FAX)

Chief: Carl Custalow

  History & Information

The members of this tribe live on a reservation that stretches along the borders of the Mattaponi River in King William County. The Mattaponi Indian Reservation dates back to 1658. In those early days, the people made their living completely from nature's resources. In 1646 the Mattaponi began paying tribute to an early Virginia governor. This practice continues to the present day, when on the fourth Wednesday of November the tribe presents game or fish to the governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The Mattaponi Indian Reservation was created from land long held by the tribe by an act of the Virginia General Assembly in 1658. Being one of the oldest reservations in the country, the tribe traces its history back to the paramount chief Powhatan who led most of Tidewater Virginia when Europeans arrived in 1607. Since the Assembly's affirmation of the reservation in 1658, the Mattaponi Tribe has maintained its heritage and many of its customs despite strong pressures pushing toward assimilation with the mainstream culture.

Through the years, both the reservation's physical size and the number of tribal members have diminished. The reservation presently encompasses approximately 150 acres, a portion of which is wetland. Although the Tribal Roll numbers 450 people, only 75 actually live on the reservation. The Mattaponi Indian Tribe is state recognized and continues to maintain its own sovereign government. The governing body today is made up of the chief, assistant chief, and seven councilmen. The mission of the Mattaponi people is to maintain a sustainable community on the Mattaponi River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, that will extend the thousands of years of Mattaponi history and heritage and, in doing so, demonstrate to all people how they may live successful and rewarding lives in harmony with the earth. The reservation today sits on the banks of the Mattaponi River, one of the most pristine rivers in the Eastern United States. Facilities on the reservation include living quarters, a small church, a museum, the Fish Hatchery and Marine Science Facility, and a community tribal building that was formerly the reservation school.

Shad have always been a staple in the Mattaponi diet and at the center of the Mattaponi culture. The traditions continue as the Mattaponi people work in harmony with the land and the river. The Hatchery and Marine Science Facility were funded through grants from a number of foundations and organizations as well as from individual contributions. The facility supports the tribe's traditional work with American shad and began several new programs that include fish tagging, water quality monitoring, and the development of educational materials for schools and communities about protecting water resources.