Three years after federal recognition opened up a wealth of new opportunities, the Monacan Indian Nation now finds itself with a robust community center that’s poised to help hundreds of its members and others in the local community in need with a variety of programs.
Members on Tuesday welcomed U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, who supported the resolution recognizing the tribe, for a tour of the new Monacan Highview Complex near Monroe in Amherst County. There, he welcomed discussion from members on needs and response during the coronavirus pandemic.
Adrian Compton, tribal administrator, said the Monacan Indian Nation bought the property at 111 Highview Drive in the beginning of October and the existing buildings required little work.
By the end of the year, it had become the new tribal office — a more spacious complex of buildings than the previous location on South Main Street in the town of Amherst. The new complex includes spaces designated for offices, classes, a food bank and a future clinic site.
“We’ve just been working within the boundaries of COVID,” Compton said. “We wanted Sen. Kaine to actually open it up for us.”
Compton said the Monacan Indian Nation jumped at the opportunity to apply for grants to help during the pandemic. As a result of that, it’s had a steady supply of protective equipment to offer members either by delivery or as part of the food bank, which has been operating with a no-contact drive-thru option.
Health care, he said, is one of the primary needs in the community and something the new complex is ideal to address.
Monacan Indian Nation Chief Kenneth Branham said he envisions part of the space to function as a shelter during natural disasters in the future, and is planning to add an Indian Health Service clinic — one of the first such physical locations in Virginia — late this year or in early 2022.
“The possibilities for the site here in Madison Heights are endless,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of big plans in place and for the first time in my life, I think all of them are realistic and obtainable.”
Once operational, Compton said the clinic would employ about 20 people and serve as a western hub for Virginia indigenous communities since another clinic location in development would be near Richmond.
He said the new Madison Heights location already offers a variety of services: a food bank serving around 350 families per week, rental assistance and homelessness prevention programs, drug prevention and rehabilitation programs, tribal enrollment, and genealogy and environmental protection services.
In the next few months, he said, it will add a GED program, other classes, a general technical center and an accessible van to help address significant transportation needs.
“We’ve been very aggressive in building the number of programs we offer tribal members,” he said.
Branham said the Monacans have been one of the first indigenous communities in Virginia to be offered the COVID- 19 vaccine through the Indian Health Service — office workers at the community center have gotten the opportunity and have reached out to registered members who qualify based on their age or underlying condition, too.
Locally, he said he knows of around a dozen members who have had the disease — including himself — and one who has died.
“Looking at that, we’ve been very, very fortunate to not have suffered more from this,” he said.
Branham said he’s heard mixed levels of skepticism regarding the vaccine, with many worried about side effects. That aligns with a survey from the Urban Indian Health Institute published late last month, which found 75% of American Indians surveyed were willing to be immunized and around 78% were concerned about side effects.
While visiting Tuesday, Kaine spoke to the resiliency of the Monacan Indian Nation during the 20-year push for federal recognition and fielded questions about how the community has felt the effects of the pandemic.
Some present wondered about support for broadband expansion during a time when student remote learning has been strained and some members have had to rely on tribe-provided Wi-Fi hotspots rather than pay up to $100 per month for sub-par internet access.
Kaine said a focus on comprehensive broadband expansion is likely for a second federal COVID-19 relief bill centered on economic recovery, following the initial emergency relief bill Congress currently is working on.
In addition, he said, committee hearings for President Joe Biden’s health team next week come at an ideal time, and legislators can take any tribal input on vaccine distribution into their questions for the president’s picks.
“Give us a way we can measure you,” he said as an example of what to ask of the nominees for the positions. “A month from now, where will you be so we can get you back and say, ‘Okay, did you do what you were saying you were going to do?’ And we’ll ask that about the states, but we’ll [also] ask it about tribes.”