Pamunkey and Mattaponi Wrestle With Fishing Rights in Virginia
Tribal fishing rights across Turtle Island are usually protected by state or federal obligations, and at times become the subject of heated discussions on regulating those rights. On April 5, two tribes in Virginia appeared to be denied those tribal rights.
Marine police, acting on behalf of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries traveled to the Mattaponi and Pamunkey Reservations to enforce a 2013 opinion issued by Virginia’s then Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli. (The Pamunkey are currently in the process of becoming the first federally recognized tribe in the state of Virginia.)
The officers, who came to the territories without permission, threatened tribal members with confiscation of their fishing nets, fishing boats and wrote summons and fines of $500 per fish. “The VMRC and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries were trying to deny us our treaty rights,” Kevin Brown, chief of the Pamunkey Indians said.
Brown and Chief Mark Custalow, Mattaponi, went to the King William County Commonwealth’s Attorney Matthew R. Kite, complaining that the officers had violated fishing rights outlined in the Articles of Peace Treaty of 1677, an agreement between Prince Charles II, King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland and several Indian Kings and Queens, including those of the Pamunkey and Mattaponi.
Kite met with the head of the marine police and local officers. “My understanding is that they were distributing the attorney general's opinion, which came out last summer. The question presented by this opinion was, 'Do Native folks need licenses to go fishing and hunting?' The answer to that question is, No, they don't.”
Kite was clear on the enforceability of the opinion issued by Cuccinelli in 2013. “Attorney General opinions are just that, they are persuasive on what the law might say, but they are not binding like a statute or a court case decision.”
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