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Senator to Indian affairs: Approve recognition bill

WASHINGTON - Virginia's Indian tribes have yet another supporter of their federal recognition bill.

Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia endorsed the bill and asked the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs to approve the legislation.

In an Oct. 16 letter to the committee, Webb wrote that he concluded the bill, known as the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act, ''is a simple matter of fairness.''

''Four hundred years after the founding of America's first colony at Jamestown, these six tribes deserve to join our nation's 562 other federally recognized tribes,'' he wrote.

The six tribes that would be granted federal recognition include the Upper Mattaponi, the Nansemond, the Rappahannock, the Monacan, the Chickahominy, and the Chickahominy - Eastern Division. In May, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the bill, which was introduced by Rep. James P. Moran, a longtime supporter of the tribes' federal recognition.

Moran said he was pleased to have Webb's ''strong support'' for the bill.

''I look forward to working closely with him to ensure that Virginia's tribes receive the recognition they've so long been denied, yet so rightfully deserve,'' Moran said.

Though some critics have argued that the Virginia tribes should seek federal recognition through the BIA, Webb wrote that some of the tribes have made this attempt; and both the tribes and BIA officials have testified that ''a lack of resources coupled with unclear agency guidelines have produced a cumbersome recognition process.'' The BIA process, he wrote, is backlogged and can take years to complete.

Webb, in his letter to Sens. Byron Dorgan and Lisa Murkowski, chair and vice chair of the committee, respectively, said that Virginia tribal documentation also ''was tampered with or destroyed due to state actions at the beginning of the last century.''

Virginia's tribes also have had critics who argued against their recognition because of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. However, the bill includes an amendment that would prevent the tribes from pursuing gaming, which the tribes have said they have no interest in.

''Federal recognition of Virginia's Indians enjoys strong, bipartisan support in Virginia,'' Webb wrote. ''Governor Kaine and his predecessor Governor Mark Warner have supported recognition, and in 1999, both houses of the Virginia General Assembly adopted resolutions embracing federal recognition. The measure also has support from various religious and civic organizations.''

In response to Webb's support, Wayne Adkins, Chickahominy Indian Tribe - Eastern Division chief and Virginia Indian Tribal Alliance for Life president, said VITAL has worked with Webb and his staff for support of the federal recognition bill.

''During that same time, we have been sharing our history at various Jamestown 2007 commemorative events and have received overwhelming support from our fellow citizens,'' said Adkins in a press release. ''I am delighted that Senator Webb has endorsed a bill in the Senate to grant such recognition.''

Members of Virginia tribes and VITAL contacted Webb early to seek his support, said Reggie Tupponce, VITAL vice president.

''We feel really good about him supporting the bill and supporting us,'' Tupponce said. ''It shows that we do have a good bill, and we have the state behind us. Hopefully, this will give us the spark we need to get the bill moving in the Senate.''