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NAACP Norfolk makes deal with Pamunkey Indian Tribe to ensure no discrimination in casino development

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Posted at 9:16 AM, Nov 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-24 16:46:15-05

NORFOLK, Va. - Voters have approved a referendum to build a casino in Norfolk and now the Norfolk branch of the NAACP says they'll have a seat at the table as the project comes to fruition.

The NAACP met with the Pamunkey Indian Tribe in October, but didn't come forward until Tuesday because they didn't want to influence the election.

"The main point was to get that mutual respect from each other and ensure we had that dialogue before the project begins," said Rick James from the Norfolk NAACP.

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe will operate the gaming casino that's set to be built at Harbor Park, but the Tribe has faced questions about its past. Previously, a tribal law said no one in the Tribe could marry anyone not Native American or white. "Recently, we have become aware of the Pamunkey Indian practices of discrimination as described in their Black laws," said James.

In a letter shared with News 3, Chief Robert Gray said the law was "antiquated" and has been repealed. He said it does not reflect the views of the Tribe today. "That was a very, very tough meeting. We believe the Chief was very sincere," said James. "We asked very, very tough questions. We got good answers that we were hoping to get."

Following Tuesday's press conference, Chief Gray released a statement to News 3. "I look forward to working together with the NAACP and the community to make sure that not only are there career opportunities for minorities, but that we are also ensuring that people have the skills and training they need to compete and succeed in these positions. I believe this is the beginning of a strong partnership between the Tribe and the NAACP that will lift all of Norfolk’s communities,"he said.

The Tribe has pledged to hire 90-percent of the casino workforce from the local community and 50-percent from minority communities. "We put a system in place where we can make sure to have the checks and balances to make sure this is a fair process and a fair project for all residents of Norfolk," said James.

They added that it was a good conversation and was a first step to a "long lasting partnership."

Related: Expert weighs in on if two casinos can survive in Hampton Roads