In 1607, a few men sailed across the Atlantic and built the foundations of what would become the United States of America -- the 'Land of the Free'.
But these foundations were built on stolen land. Today we know that. Today we repent for the injustice done against the first Americans. We're supposed to respect Indian property and culture, right?
Last month, the North Atlantic Division of the Corps issued a draft permit, allowing the creation of a 1,526 acre reservoir on the Mattaponi River. This reservoir would greatly harm the environment, flooding hundreds of acres of wetlands and destroying the Cohoke watershed.
And it would have a disastrous effect on the people of the Mattaponi and Pumunkey tribes, who to this day hold the river sacred.
The city of Newport News maintains that the reservoir is needed to meet the city's projected water needs. However, there is undeniable evidence against this claim. The damage to the wetlands would be massive. The NN reservior in New Kent County is providing more than enough water for the city. The proposed reservoir would flood land held sacred to a people who have more right to it than anyone.
And yet they push on.
I took a trip to this beautiful place last weekend. Today, the Mattaponi River remains much the same as the first English settlers found it 400 years ago. Much of the land surrounding the river was once part of the Mattaponi reservation, but the size of the reservation has dwindled. A few years ago, Assistant Chief Carl 'Lone Eagle' Custalow of the Mattaponi tribe expressed great hopes for this pristine land:
"When I was a boy in the early fifties, my father, Chief Webster Little Eagle Custalow, would bring me on a crisp spring morning to the banks of the Sandy Point tract on the Mattaponi River. I still feel the thrill of seeing the river flowing, the herons fishing, and ducks nesting in the marshes. Occasionally an eagle or an osprey would soar overhead. I used to long for this large piece of our original Homeland to become part of our Reservation again. The fish, wildlife and bird habitat make Sandy Point an especially sacred site for our Tribe.
"When I returned to the Reservation and became Assistant Chief of the Tribe, I had this vision of a modern Hatchery, a beautiful three story Cultural Center built over the water and a Living History Village to study and teach our culture to tribal members and the general public alike...
"The vision for my beloved Reservation, the beauty of it all and the chance to protect rich Virginia natural resources, forests, meadows and wetlands, while strengthening our cultural heritage, gave me the will to hope..."
(read the entire letter here
Groups such as The Southern Environmental Law Center
and The Sierra Club
are fighting for this hope, but hope is fading quickly.
We'd like to think that the American government has changed its ways, but Native Americans have been getting the short end of the stick, 400 years and counting.