Tribal struggle for federal recognition acknowledged
CHARLES CITY, Va. - British dignitaries visited six of Virginia's
state-recognized tribes earlier this month to acknowledge that Great
Britain considered the tribes to be sovereign nations hundreds of years
Members of the British Jamestown 2007 Commemoration Committee invited the
tribes to England in 2006, a year before the 400th anniversary of the
founding of Jamestown, Va. - the first permanent English settlement in the
New World. The guests of the Virginia Indian Tribal Alliance for Life's
(VITAL) annual Six Nations Pow Wow participated in the ceremonies held
April 30 - May 1 on the Chickahominy Indian Tribal Grounds.
The English visitors also noted Great Britain's recognition of Virginia's
Indian tribes as sovereign nations in the 1677 Treaty of Middle Plantation
that was made with the tribes. This same treaty, the state's tribes argue,
protects them and designates them as individual nations with sovereignty -
something the United States hasn't done.
All eight of Virginia's state-recognized tribes seek federal recognition,
with the Pamunkey and the Mattaponi seeking recognition through the BIA.
The other six tribes have sought federal recognition through legislation.
The bill, called the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal
Recognition Act, gained support from the U.S. Senate in 2003. It was
rein-troduced to the Senate in March by Sen. George Allen, R-Va., a
longtime supporter of the tribes and their federal recognition; it was
sponsored in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va.
and Jo Ann Davis, R-Va.
"It is important that our for-bearers made peace, and that we forevermore
respect each other," said Rebecca Casson, executive director of the British
Jamestown 2007 Commemoration Committee.
Casson and other committee representatives came from Kent County, England,
and the town of Gravesend, where many of the early English involved with
the Virginia Company had lived. One Englishman from that area, Sir Edwin
Sandys, was treasurer of the Virginia Co. and came to Jamestown in 1607,
"Today we are here to honor that historical relationship, and it is my
privilege to present an official invitation from the civic leaders of the
town of Gravesend and of Kent County to the chiefs of the great tribal
nations," Casson said. "We look forward very much to welcoming you to
England, to Kent and to Gravesend, in 2006, in a way which we will plan
together to strengthen the historical links that already exist and to
create new and lasting friendship in the 21st century."
Chief Ken Adams of the Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe said the grand entry
with the chiefs of the six tribes and the English visitors represents a
change in time.
"This is a new relationship with England that we are going to continue to
foster," Adams said. "All of the chiefs will visit England in 2006. I think
it will be a profound event to renew the relationship we established with
England hundreds of years ago."
For Reggie Tupponce, VITAL president, the presentation from the English
visitors represented the tribes' coming full circle.
"We started off as sovereign nations, and we are moving back as sovereign
nations," Tupponce said. "We're moving back to our starting point."
Tupponce noted that the town of Gravesend is where Pocahontas, the daughter
of the Great Chief Powhatan of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, is buried.
Pocahontas, a Mattaponi Indian who was captured by the English, was forced
to marry John Rolfe in an effort by the English to strengthen ties with
Virginia Indians. She was taken to England and later poisoned about the
time she was to return to Virginia, according to the Mattaponi's tribal
historian, Dr. Linwood Custalow.
Also attending the pow wow, Chief Kenneth Branham of the Monacan Indian
Nation said the visit to England should bring good to the tribes in their
efforts to seek federal recognition.
"It would be an embarrassment to the state of Virginia and to the country
if we're not federally recognized by 2007," Branham said.