RICHMOND, Va. - Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine once again has publicly given his support of the six Virginia Indian tribes seeking federal recognition through legislation.
In a June 20 letter, he asked the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs to schedule a markup date of the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act: ''I strongly support the swift passage of this important legislation. Indeed, federal recognition of the tribes of Virginia is long overdue.''
The U.S. House of Representatives approved the bill in May 2007, and since then, the tribes have waited for the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs to approve the bill and send it to the Senate for a full vote.
Since October, state Sen. Jim Webb and his senior staff have been in communication with Committee on Indian Affairs Chairman Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and the committee's staff, urging them to mark up the bill.
''We're very pleased with the governor's letter,'' Kimberly Hunter, Webb's press secretary, said. ''This concerted effort on behalf of the governor and Sen. Webb's office demonstrates the importance of moving this piece of legislation forward in Congress and recognizing Virginia's tribes.''
In his letter, Kaine reiterated Webb's requests and said the bill had made progress during the 110th session of Congress, having been approved by the U.S. House of Representatives last year.
''Before the good work of this Congress is lost, I hope that you will do everything you can to ensure that the legislation moves out of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee this year,'' he wrote.
The Virginia tribes seeking recognition through legislation include the Upper Mattaponi, Monacan, Chickahominy, Chickahominy - Eastern Division, Nansemond and Rappahannock.
The Virginia Indian Tribal Alliance for Life, an independent public organization that supports Virginia Indians, has worked closely with Webb and Kaine's staff, asking the governor for a letter expressing his support, said Second Assistant Chief Wayne B. Adkins of the Chickahominy Tribe and VITAL president.
''I think the governor's letter should carry quite a bit of weight with the Committee on Indian Affairs as we try to move towards a markup of the bill. I'm pleased with the letter. We've always appreciated Gov. Tim Kaine's strong support. He's been with us from the beginning, and he's repeatedly expressed his support publicly.''
Chief Ken Adams of the Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe said he knew that the tribes had Kaine's support for some time.
''I feel very strongly about him writing the letter, and it's a major step in the right direction.''
Along with reiterating the House approval and Webb's requests, Kaine also called it ''tragic'' that the Virginia tribes hadn't received federal recognition yet, especially one year after the commemoration of Jamestown's 400th anniversary. He noted that the tribes' ancestors enabled the first settlers at Jamestown to survive.
''Our Virginia tribes are unique,'' Kaine wrote. ''Unlike most tribes that obtained federal recognition when they signed peace treaties with the federal government, tribes in Virginia signed their peace treaties with the British monarchy. However, while the Virginia tribes have received official recognition from the commonwealth of Virginia [between 1983 and 1989], acknowledgment and federal recognition have been considerably more difficult due to systematic mistreatment over the past century.''
Over the years, the Virginia tribes have experienced what Kaine described as ''paper genocide.'' State officials after the passage of the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 for nearly 40 years changed Virginia Indians' racial designations from Indian to ''colored'' on birth, marriage and death certificates. These changes had also made it difficult for the tribes to document their existence, which is required by the BIA.
The tribes have sought federal recognition through legislation since 1999, after the Virginia General Assembly adopted a resolution that asked Congress to enact legislation for the tribes.
''It is past time to reconcile history. Let us, once and for all, honor the heritage of the Virginia tribes,'' Kaine wrote. ''A heritage, I might add, that has been sorely tested by centuries of racial hostility and state-sanctioned coercive actions. It is time for these Virginia Native peoples to be recognized by their own country.''