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House moves slowly on federal recognition bill for Virginia Indians

WASHINGTON - The U.S. House of Representatives has yet to take any action on a bill introduced in May that would, if approved by Congress, grant six Virginia Indian tribes federal recognition.

With little more than a year left in the current session of Congress, members of Virginia Indian tribes want to see the House move forward on H.R. 1938, also known as the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2003.

The bill, introduced in May by Rep. Jim P. Moran, D-Va., was referred to the House Resources Committee a week after its introduction May 1, said Nicol Andrews, the committee's press secretary.

"They're wanting to hear from the Bureau of Acknowledgments and Recognition with the Department of Interior," Andrews said. "Then, the process will require it to go through a series of hearings and mark ups."

The bill, a companion to Senate Bill 1423 introduced by Sen. George Allen, R-Va., seeks federal recognition of six of Virginia's state-recognized Indian tribes - the Nansemond Indian Tribe, the Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe, the Rappahannock Indian Tribe, the Monacan Indian Nation, the Eastern Chickahominy Indian Tribe and the Chickahominy Indian Tribe. In October, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee approved of the Senate's companion bill, which now awaits a vote from the Senate. This action marked a significant step closer to federal recognition for Virginia's Indian tribes.

Virginia Indians say they want legislators to act on the bill.

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"We're hoping they'll make a decision on the bill," said Ken Adams, Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe chief.

If the House Resources Committee approves of the bill after receiving comments from the Acknowledgments and Recognition Bureau, the authors of the bill will negotiate and compromise, Andrews said. From there, the bill would go before the House for a vote. If both the House and Senate approve their individual bills, the two will meet to reconcile the bills, vote on a single bill, she said.

"It's on the docket," Andrews said. "Its approval [by the House Resources Committee] just depends on a lot of things."

Despite six sponsors of the House bill, Rep. Frank R. Wolf, R-Va., has been said to oppose the bill because it doesn't discuss casinos, something that many Virginia legislators object. But Moran addressed this issue in his speech to the House in May, stating that he had closed loopholes in the bill to assure gaming casinos aren't allowed. He also added that even though non-profit organizations in the state are allowed by state law to open bingo parlors, none of the tribes, which have organized themselves as non-profits, have chosen to operate bingo facilities.

Both Moran and Allen have argued that granting federal recognition to Virginia's Indians is a means of correcting the wrongs committed against the state's first people.

"Despite their devastating loss of land and population, the Virginia Indians successfully overcame years of racial discrimination that denied them equal opportunities to pursue their education and preserve their cultural identity," Moral said in his speech to the House when he introduced the bill. "That story of survival doesn't encompass decades; it spans centuries of racial hostility and coercive state and state-sanctioned actions. Unlike most tribes that resisted encroachment and obtained federal recognition when they signed peace treaties with the federal government, Virginia's six tribes signed their peace treaties with the Kings of England."