Virginia Indians Continue Federal Recognition Fight

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NCAI president applauds perseverance

RICHMOND, Va. - A national American Indian leader, speaking often in his
Hidatsa language, pledged his support for the six Virginia Indian tribes
seeking federal recognition.

Tex Hall, the National Congress of American Indians president and guest
speaker June 15 at a Virginia Indian Tribal Alliance for Life reception,
said many elders have died waiting on federal recognition. He noted that he
couldn't imagine the struggles Virginia's Indians have endured for the past
400 years.

"I think of the six tribes of Virginia and how you must have persevered,"
said Hall, also chairman of the Mandan, Hadatsa Arikara Nation of North
Dakota. "You must stand together as you have done."

The six tribes seeking federal recognition through Congress - the
Nansemond, the Monacan, the Chickahominy, the Eastern Chickahominy, the
Upper Mattaponi, and the Rappahannock - first sought recognition with the
U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

A slow BIA process prompted them to seek recognition through legislation.
Already a supporter of the Virginia Indian cause, U. S. Sen. George Allen,
R-Va., introduced the Senate bill in 2002, and U.S. Rep. James E Moran Jr.,
D-Va., introduced it in the House.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee approved the bill in October, and Allen
continues to push for support and approval by the Senate, a spokesman said.
The House, however, hasn't acted on its bill since May 2003.

Despite the apparent limbo as the current Congress session nears its close,
Hall said he was pleased to see the support Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner, a
Democrat, and Allen have given and expects good things from them.

But Hall, who spoke to more than 200 people at the Virginia Historical
Society in Richmond, said "it would be a shame" if the tribes didn't
receive federal recognition by 2007.

If federally recognized, the tribes would be allowed protection of cultural
resources, the right to repatriate remains, access to health care benefits
and education grants for Indians, assistance with economic enterprises and
the writing of history, he said.

"Federal recognition allows us a place at the table," Hall said, "... more
importantly for setting history straight."

For over 14,000 years, Virginia Indians lived as sovereign nations on the
very land where they live today, said Chief Stephen Adkins of the
Chickahominy tribe.

"It touches me to know that those of you who are not part of our culture
are here for the same things," Adkins said.

The tribes and supporters want to see the recognition bills passed in time
for the Jamestown 2007 anniversary. This event will mark the 400th
anniversary of the establishment in 1607 of Jamestown, the first permanent
English settlement, and the beginnings of the United States. Organizers of
the event want the state's tribes to participate, but some Indians don't
want to be involved if the federal government doesn't recognize them.

At the reception, Adkins said other commissions and boards have recently
adopted resolutions to support the federal recognition effort. Some of
these include the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities
- Preservation Virginia, the Jamestown 400th Commemoration Commission, the
Jamestown/Yorktown Foundation, and the Lewis & Clark Exploratory Center of
Virginia Inc.

American Indian agencies that have offered support include the National
Congress of American Indians, the Alaskan Federation of Natives, and the
Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, among many others.

Virginia chiefs asked members of the audience to support the tribes' fight.
However, Chief Marvin Bradby of the Eastern Chickahominy Tribe said the
tribes weren't looking for handouts. And he added that for far too long
Virginia Indians had been denied their own identities.

Diane Shields, the Monacan Indian Nation's assistant chief, said the tribes
began the federal recognition process to show respect of their elders. "...
They have been classified as secondhand Indians or worse for many years,"
Shields said. "Because if you are not a federally recognized Indian, you
are not real."

But Chief Anne Richardson of the Rappahannock Indian Tribe said while the
campaign for federal recognition and the momentum behind it has been
tremendous, it has been built on the sacrifices of their elders.

"Many of them have passed on and won't get to see this," she said.

The state and local governments, agencies and national organizations are
saying, "properly recognize these people," said Ken Adams, Upper Mattaponi
Tribe chief.

"I'm convinced that Virginia Indians will set standards of excellence in
Indian country ... but first we need federal recognition," Adams said.

Opponents of the recognition continue to argue that the bills would allow
Virginia Indians to utilize the National Indian Gaming Act. However, the
bills include amendments prohibiting the tribes from using the act.