Skip to main content

Virginia tribes' recognition bill passes House

WASHINGTON - The U.S. House of Representatives' Natural Resources Committee has given its approval to a bill that would grant six Virginia Indian tribes federal recognition.

For the first time since the Virginia tribes have sought federal recognition through legislation, the Resources Committee took action on the bill April 25, sending it to the full House. The committee's action improves the bill's chances of consideration by the House, according to Rep. James P. Moran, D-Va., who introduced the bill in March.

While opponents to the federal recognition bill have argued that the Virginia tribes would be allowed to utilize the federal Indian Gaming Act, the bill includes an amendment that prohibits the tribes from pursuing gaming.

The six tribes seeking federal recognition under the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Recognition Act include the Chickahominy, Chickahominy - Eastern Division, Upper Mattaponi, Rappahannock, Monacan and Nansemond tribes.

''I feel good that the bill has come out of committee and is moving to the House,'' said Chief Stephen Adkins of the Chickahominy Tribe. ''I think we've come a long way, and I'm very optimistic that it will pass the full House. Governor Tim Kaine has been supportive. There's been a lot of grass-roots support, and I think it's a victory for the Virginia tribes, and it positions us for our rightful place in history.''

Chief Barry Bass of the Nansemond Tribe said Virginia Indians have been hoping for approval from the Resources Committee.

''Of course, I think there were some changes in the bill regarding the gaming, but we're still pushing for the federal recognition,'' Bass said. ''We're just hoping that the bill will keep going ahead. That's what we've been wanting for years; and hopefully, it will continue to move. I think we have some good support, but at the same time, I think there are some people with issues over gaming. We've tried to resolve that every way possible.''

Chief Kenneth Branham of the Monacan Nation said the tribes did agree to include an amendment addressing gaming issues, but he said he didn't believe the amendment would affect the tribes in the future.

''We're happy the bill has gotten out of the committee,'' Branham said. ''We're looking forward to working with the people to get this bill through and continue to work to make the federal recognition beneficial to our people in Virginia.''

Moran has worked to push approval of a federal recognition bill for Virginia tribes since the 1990s.

''The Resources Committee, under Chairman Rahall's leadership, understands that the Virginia tribes greatly deserve federal recognition,'' Moran said in a press release. ''The Native Americans who greeted the first English settlers at Jamestown have been ignored by the federal government for 400 years. Today, with the Committee's action, we are a step closer to righting this historical injustice.''

As the Jamestown 2007 Commemoration kicks off in May, the Virginia tribes had hoped to be federally recognized prior to the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement.

''The eyes of the world turn to Jamestown ... for the 400th anniversary,'' Moran said. ''Our goal is for the Virginia tribes to share that spotlight, proudly representing a living history of the Commonwealth as Virginia's fully recognized Native American tribes.''

Moran said about 562 tribes have received federal recognition. However, their treaties were signed with the United States, whereas Virginia's Indian tribes signed their treaties with the kings of England. Although eight of Virginia's tribes have received recognition by the state, none has received recognition by the federal government.

While federal recognition requires substantial documentation showing continuity of existence, Virginia Indians faced the destruction of records of their Indian identity under the Virginia Racial Integrity Act of 1924. Through this act, the state's then-Vital Records Registrar Walter Plecker reclassified Virginia Indians as ''colored,'' removing their Indian racial designation from birth, marriage and death certificates, and threatened to imprison anyone claiming the Indian racial designation.