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Moran reintroduces federal-recognition bill for Virginia tribes

U.S. Rep. James P. Moran, D-Va., continues to push legislation that would extend federal recognition to six Virginia Indian tribes.

The congressman reintroduced the bill March 9 and said he expects the Committee on Natural Resources to hold a hearing on it this week.

“The time is right to pass this bill. Virginia’s tribes have waited 400 years to close this sad chapter in our nation’s history,” said Moran in a press release. “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.”

The six Virginia tribes – Chickahominy, Chickahominy Eastern Division, Nansemond, Upper Mattaponi, Rappahannock and Monacan – have sought federal recognition through legislation for years, and some say they expect the best this time around.

“It’s a new Congress, so we’re optimistic. Congressman Moran has been our chief patron through all these years and we appreciate what he has done for us,” said Wayne Adkins, Chickahominy, president of Virginia Indian Tribal Alliance for Life, an independent organization supporting Virginia Indian ideas and projects. “We’re hopeful that he will be able to get the bill passed this year.”

In 2007, the House voted unanimously in support of federal recognition for the tribes. The bill stalled in the Senate during Congress’ 110th session; though the tribes had the support of Senator Jim Webb, D-Va.

“I hope for success for the bill to go all the way to the president’s desk this year,” said Ken Adams, Upper Mattaponi chief. “It’s been a long difficult process, and it’s time we get it done.”

Over the years as the tribes gained increased support for the federal-recognition bill, critics fought against it, stating it would bring gambling to the state. However, the bill prevents the tribes from operating gaming facilities on tribal land, Moran said.

Unlike hundreds of American Indian tribes that gained recognition through treaties signed with the federal government, Virginia’s tribes signed treaties with England before the United States became a nation.

As a result, no formal relationship with the federal government was established with the state’s tribes.

Virginia’s tribes, too, fell victim to increased racial hostilities once the 1924 Racial Integrity Act was passed. The act, in essence, gave state officials the authority to change the racial designation of all non-whites to “colored” on official records such as birth, marriage and death certificates. This action resulted in significant loss of historical and official documentation of Virginia Indians’ existence since the act forced them to live under the racial designation of “colored.”

Indians who refused to change their racial designation faced up to one year in jail, Moran said.

“Driven off their land, having survived a ‘paper genocide’ at the hands of state officials in the 1920s bent on erasing records of their heritage, the Virginia tribes are still being denied their rights as Native Americans,” Moran said. “This legislation is a long overdue part of the healing process.”

Over the years as the tribes gained support for the federal-recognition bill, critics fought against the bill, stating it would bring gambling to the state. However, the bill prevents the tribes from operating gaming facilities on tribal land, Moran said.

The federal-recognition bill’s six cosponsors are Gerald Connolly, D-Va., Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., Tom Perriello, D-Va., Nick Rahall, D-W.V., Bobby Scott, D-Va. and Rob Wittman, R-Va.