Mattaponi tribal members demand women’s rights, elections within tribe: ‘I do not have a voice or a vote’


RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A multi-century Virginia Thanksgiving tradition with area Indian tribes was followed with protests on Wednesday. A group of people in the Mattaponi Tribe is calling for change within its own leadership.

The tax tribute ceremony has been a tradition for more than 300 years.

“It’s great to see our families from the Pamunkey and Mattaponi tribes,” Governor Ralph Northam said at the Executive Mansion Wednesday morning. “Pam and I look forward to this every year,” he added.

This year’s day of celebrating tribal sovereignty and self-governance was shadowed with controversy as a couple dozen members of the Mattaponi tribe spoke out just steps away in capitol square, demanding tribal elections and that women are allowed the same rights as men.

“I stand here before you today, a Mattaponi woman in 2021, to say that I do not have a voice or a vote in my tribe,” said Gloria Custalow.

“As much as we hate to bring it out to the public, the ugliness of it, it’s necessary,” she told 8News. The tribe is located in King and Queen County and traveled to Richmond on Wednesday. Gloria said for years, the tribe’s women have not been allowed in leadership meetings or allowed positions — leadership roles she said men are appointing themselves instead of holding elections.

“As we talk about self governance, it is paramount that free and fair elections take place and include all tribal members,” said Jasmine Anderson, an advocate.

Gloria said elections, which are tradition, haven’t been held since the 1970’s. In 2016, she began asking for equal rights by going to the tribe’s chief, Mark Custalow, her own distant family member. Nearly six years later, Gloria said nothing has changed. “They’re refusing to do the right thing,” she said.

8News asked Mark about the situation at the tax tribute Wednesday morning.

“No comment,” he said. Meanwhile, he’s taking several tribal members, Gloria included, to court. He filed a restraining order after a group recently showed up at his house demanding change.

Court records show Gloria is charged with misdemeanor trespassing and simple assault or battery.

“He called the police on us all, they came down,” she said. The reservation resident told 8News there was no confrontation with Mark and no violence. There is a hearing scheduled for December in King and Queen County.

Several members of the group said regardless of legal accusations, they will still be pushing for tribal elections and women’s rights.

“The little girls, what are they gonna have? We’ve got to make them proud,” Gloria told 8News.

Other speakers alleged that racial discrimination regarding membership is a big problem within the tribe. Some folks said they deserve land on the reservation but aren’t allowed it. They said some people have been told their skin is “too dark” or “too light.”

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