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House Natural Resources Committee approves Virginia tribes’ federal recognition bill

WASHINGTON – Six of Virginia’s Indian tribes seeking federal recognition have moved a bit closer in the process, having gained approval by a U.S. House of Representatives committee responsible for reviewing the bill.

The U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources approved the bill April 22, forwarding it to the House, which is expected to act on the bill in the next few weeks, said Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va.

In addition to House support, the tribes also have support in the Senate, having visited with members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, who toured tribal grounds this year.

Moran wrote the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2009, and has been a long-time supporter of the tribes’ federal recognition.

“I appreciate Chairman [Nick] Rahall and the committee’s swift action in favor of Virginia’s Indians; 400 years is a long time to wait, but today’s decision moves our effort ever closer to ending this historic injustice.”

The bill would provide federal recognition to Chickahominy, Chickahominy Indian Tribe Eastern Division, the Upper Mattaponi, the Rappahannock, the Monacan, and the Nansemond Indian tribes.

During the Natural Resources Committee hearing, the House approved a couple of amendments to the bill. One amendment clarifies that land taken into trust for the tribes must be in the historic service area where the tribes originated. The bill gives the tribes the opportunity to put land they already own into trust; this action isn’t automatic.

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., read concerns at the hearing about taking land into trust for the tribes since a recent Supreme Court decision in the Carcieri v. Salazar case questions whether the secretary of interior has the authority to take land into trust for tribes not under federal jurisdiction before 1934.

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In addition to movement on the bill in the House, the tribes may see action on it in the Senate soon; a companion bill may be introduced in a couple of weeks, according to the office of Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va.

“Senator Webb is very encouraged by recent conversations with Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Dorgan and his staff. Members of our office last month accompanied Senator [Byron] Dorgan’s committee staff around the Commonwealth to visit the tribal grounds of the six Virginia Indian tribes seeking recognition,” said Jessica Smith, Webb’s communications director. “Our office continues to work with the committee to lay the groundwork in preparation for introduction of the federal recognition legislation in the Senate in the coming weeks.”

The committee’s approval was good news to Virginia tribes who have sought federal recognition through legislation for many years.

“Overall, I feel good about it; it’s one more step to getting it to a vote by the full House of Representatives,” said Wayne Adkins, Chickahominy, Virginia Indians Tribal Alliance for Life, president.

“I expected the vote to be affirmative at the House Resources Committee; I’m very pleased that it passed,” said Chief Ken Adams of the Upper Mattaponi Tribe. “We appreciate the support we’ve been given from Congressman Moran and others.”

Federal recognition had never been established with Virginia’s Indian tribes because their treaties had been signed with England. The tribes also experienced additional hostilities during the 1900s when Virginia legislators passed the 1924 Racial Integrity Act.

Through the act, state officials had the authority to change the racial designation of all non-whites to “colored” on birth, marriage and death certificates. This action resulted in significant loss of official and genealogical records of Virginia Indians since they were listed as colored and not Indian.

The co-sponsors of the bill include Gerald Connolly, D-Va., Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., Tom Perriello, D-Va., Nick Rahall, D-W. Va., Bobby Scott, D-Va. and Rob Wittman, R-Va.