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House approves Virginia tribes’ federal recognition bill

WASHINGTON – With the House of Representatives’ June 3 approval, some members of six Virginia Indian tribes say they’re hoping their federal recognition bill will become law this year.

Members of the House approved for a second time the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2009.

“I’m happy that it passed, and we can move on to devote our time to getting it passed in the Senate,” said Wayne Adkins, Chickahominy, president of the Virginia Indian Tribal Alliance for Life. “We thank Congressman Moran and his staff for their work.”

Written and introduced by Congressman Jim Moran, the bill first received approval by the House in 2007 but failed to move in the Senate.

But this time could be different. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., with co-sponsor Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., introduced a companion bill to grant tribes federal recognition the same day the House approved it.

“I applaud Congressman Moran’s tireless work shepherding this important bill through the House,” Webb said. “It’s time for these six Virginia tribes to join our nation’s 562 other federally recognized tribes.”

Virginia Indians’ history is unique in two important ways, which is why they don’t currently have federal recognition, Moran said.

Members of the six Virginia tribes are direct descendants of the Indians who enabled the English at Jamestown to survive harsh winters in the early 1600s.

“Virginia’s tribes have waited 400 years to receive their federal recognition. We are one step closer to closing a sad chapter in our nation’s history, one that saw the exploitation and denigration of Virginia’s Indians” Moran said. “These tribes, descendants of those that greeted the first English settlers at Jamestown, deserve the same rights afforded the 562 tribes that are currently federally recognized.”

Ironically, Virginia’s tribes signed treaties with the kings of England, not the U.S. federal government.

Moran said the tribes’ documented history was nearly erased when Virginia officials for up to 50 years “waged a war” to destroy all state and courthouse records of the American Indians as a result of a 1924 Racial Integrity Act.

In actions Moran described as “Orwellian,” state officials reclassified Virginia Indians as “colored” on state and courthouse documents such as birth, marriage and death records. Those who called themselves Indian risked being jailed for up to one year, marriage licenses were denied and babies wouldn’t be released from the hospital unless the “colored” ethnicity was selected.

“We are rectifying this wrong today,” Moran told the House.

Though some critics have argued against the bill, saying the tribes would be able to open and operate gaming facilities on their land, the six tribes agreed to an amendment that would prevent them from utilizing the federal Indian gaming act. Even if the state of Virginia changes its laws in the future and allows gaming, the tribes will not be allowed to operate gaming facilities on their property.

The six Virginia tribes seeking recognition – the Chickahominy Tribe, Chickahominy Indian Tribe Eastern Division, the Upper Mattaponi, the Rappahannock Tribe, the Monacan Tribe, and the Nansemond Tribe – made it through the recognition bill approval process this far during the last Congressional session in 2007, and now some members say they’re ready to focus their efforts on approval by the Senate.

“I hope it means more good news for the rest of the year,” said Chief Ken Adams of the Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe. “I’m hoping we complete it this year. Maybe everything will go our way this year.”

Webb and members of his legislative team and staff members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs earlier this year toured the six tribes’ property.

Webb’s legislation will be reviewed and marked-up by the SCIA in a hearing before reaching the full Senate body for a final vote, according to his office.

“A good deal of staff time and resources have gone into laying the groundwork for the reintroduction of this bill to ensure a successful outcome in this Congress.”