2 deer and a turkey to Va. governor, and Indian tribes' tax debt is sealed once again

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell greets a bounty of visitors after the tax tribute ceremony in Richmond. His chef will turn the animal offerings into a meal, some of which will go to the homeless. (Mark Gormus/richmond Times-dispatch Via Associated Press)
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By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 24, 2010; 9:59 PM

RICHMOND - In honor of Thanksgiving, the president of the United States gets to pardon a turkey each year.

In Virginia, the Thanksgiving tradition comes a bit more . . . deceased.

In a ceremony that traces its roots to a 333-year-old treaty between Native Americans and the British crown, chiefs of the Mattaponi and Pamunkey Indian tribes gave Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) two deer and a turkey in lieu of taxes.

The animals were shot Tuesday on the tribes' reservations in King William County - the oldest reservations in the United States - and presented to the governor on Wednesday, trussed up on two tree boughs, on the brick driveway of the executive mansion in Richmond.

"On behalf of the people of Virginia, I accept this tribute," McDonnell said, as Chief Carl Custalow of the Mattaponi and Chief Robert Gray of the Pamunkey presented the animals to McDonnell and his wife, Maureen.

In the 1677 treaty, Virginia's Indian tribes agreed to deliver 20 beaver skins to the governor of the colony "at the place of his residence, wherever it shall be."

There are no records to show whether the ceremony has been performed every year since, but historians have found evidence of its commemoration in modern times dating to the 19th century.

In years past, the game has then been donated to the homeless. But for the first time in memory, the McDonnells will personally be enjoying some of the meat.

This year, Todd Schneider, the mansion's executive chef, volunteered to butcher the venison and turn it into a stew for the first family. Leftovers will be donated to local homeless shelters.

Schneider said he had scouted out a garage used by the governor's security detail with hooks in the ceiling, so he could hang the deer for dressing. The innovation is possible because Schneider, new to the mansion this year, has the skills necessary to prepare the bucks for cooking.

"It's an honor to the tribe," Custalow said of the governor's plans to partake of their gift.

Wednesday's ceremony was also far smaller than in years past at the request of the tribes, who worried that the solemn nature of the tradition was being diluted as the ceremony had grown.

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