Virginia Casino Opposition Accuses Pamunkey of Racism, Tribe Issues Denial

Posted on: October 25, 2020, 07:48h. 

Last updated on: October 25, 2020, 03:40h.

A campaign group opposed to a proposed $500 million casino in Norfolk, Virginia has accused the tribe behind the project, the Pamunkey, of racism., ABC8News reports.

Pamunkey casino
A rendering of the proposed Norfolk casino, which has the backing of the city, but is fiercely opposed by campaign group Inform Norfolk. (Image: Pamunkey Indian Tribe)

On November 3, voters in Norfolk will decide by ballot referendum whether to authorize casino gaming in the city. But a group calling itself Informed Norfolk, largely bankrolled by casino operator and real-estate developer Cordish Companies, is determined to keep the casino out.

At a press conference organized by the group this week, Jasmine Anderson criticized the tribe’s enrollment criteria. She claimed it has kept some people, including her own family, from becoming tribal citizens because of their African ancestry, or because they intermingled with African Americans more than a century ago.

At the heart of the matter are so-called “black laws,” policies enacted after the Civil War in Virginia and elsewhere that were designed to regulate and repress the lives of African Americans newly released from slavery.

Racist History

These laws were advanced by the state and written into the tribe’s ordinances. The tribe repealed those laws in 2014 and denies that it is racist.

But according to Anderson, the problem is that the Pamunkey links citizenship to US censuses conducted in 1900 and 1910, by which time many tribal members had already been banished because of the black laws.

Andersen, who has at least seven generations of Pamunkey blood, says her ancestors were disenrolled for opening a school in the late 1800s that accepted African American children.

The Black Law was supposedly repealed in 2014, yet it remains in force against me, my family, and others like us,” Anderson told reporters. “Pamunkey’s last reform is nothing more than a repackaging of its revisionist, racist history.”

Pamunkey Denial

Not so, says the tribe’s spokesperson Jay Smith, who told it was “a shame” that the casino’s opponents are “using misinformation to defeat a project that will do so much for the community.”

“The Pamunkey Tribe’s membership practices are blind to race,” Smith said. “Even opponents of the Tribe admit that there are no longer so-called ‘black laws’ in the Tribe’s ordinances. In fact, there are Tribe members in biracial relationships and their children are tribe members.

The Tribe believes in lifting up all minority communities that have suffered under discriminatory policies and will use the opportunity of the proposed resort and casino as a way to help those often left behind,” he said.

Smith notes the tribe’s minority hiring and outreach plan guarantees the workers who build and staff the casino will be entirely reflective of the community, with 50 percent coming from ethnic minorities.

While the tribe was federally recognized in 2016, the proposed casino would not be located on its sovereign territory. That means the tribe would not be immune from prosecution in any civil case that accused it of discriminatory policies.