Legal Status of the Pamunkey Tribe

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The Pamunkey, with a resident population of little more than a hundred, still preserve their national independence under the privileges accorded them by the State of Virginia almost two and a half centuries ago. They enjoy the unique distinction of being in all likelihood the smallest independent nation in the world. Pollard’s synopsis of the political circumstances leaves nothing to be added.1

In government the tribe is a true democracy, over which, however, the State of Virginia2 exercises a kindly supervision. The State appoints five trustees to look after the interest of the Indians. No reports of these trustees could be found on file at the office of the governor of Virginia, and their only function that could be ascertained to have been performed was the disapproval of certain sections in the Indian code of laws. Laws thus disapproved are expunged from the statute book. The tribe is not taxed, but they pay an annual tribute to the State by presenting through their chief to the governor of Virginia a number of wild ducks or other game.

The chief and council are the judge and jury to try all who break the law, and to settle disputes between citizens. Their jurisdiction is supposed to extend to all cases arising on the reservation and which concern only the residents thereon, with the exception of trial for homicide, in which case the offender would be arraigned before the county court of King William County. The Indians claim, however, that it would be their privilege to use the courts of the commonwealth of Virginia to settle such difficulties as could not be efficiently dealt with by their own courts, provided such difficulty arose from a breach of a State law. The writer does not know on what this claim is based. As may be seen from the printed transcript (verbatim et literatim) of the written laws of the Pamunkey which follows, they impose only fine or banishment as penalties. There is no corporal punishment either by chastisement or incarceration.

Footnotes

  1. Pollard, J. G., The Pamunkey Indians of Virginia, Bull. 17, Bur. Amer. Ethnol., Washington, 1894, pp. 15-17. 

  2. Pollard adds in a footnote: ”The writer has been unable to find any statute or judicial decision fixing the relation of the tribe to the State.” Dr. Jones (corresp. Nov. 21, 1928) calls attention to Acts of Assembly of Virginia, 1893-94 (p. 975), covering tribal laws similar to those on published here. 



MLA Source Citation:

Speck, Frank Gouldsmith. Chapters on the ethnology of the Powhatan tribes of Virginia. Indian Notes and Monographs, vol. 1, num. 5, pp. 225-455. Editor: Hodge, F. W. Heye Foundation, Museum of the American Indian. 1928. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 22 October 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/virginia/legal-status-pamunkey-tribe.htm - Last updated on Feb 10th, 2014


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