Last week, ICTMN reported that Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Kevin K. Washburn announced the Pamunkey Indian Tribe is one step closer to becoming the first tribe from Virginia to be federally recognized. Though this announcement is a good sign for the Pamunkey, there are still a few more steps for the Pamunkey to take and Federal Recognition for the tribe is not 100 percent guaranteed.
After last week’s announcement from the U.S. Department of the Interior that the Pamunkey Indian Tribe was acknowledged as a federally recognized tribe, the Pamunkey now has to play a waiting game. Currently, a public comment period will now be open for 180 days after which the Pamunkey tribe has an additional 60 days to respond to any comments.
According to the Pamunkey Chief Kevin Brown, no comments are the best comments. “We do not want anyone to write letters or give any comments at all,” Brown says.
“We are now in the public comment period and a lot of people have been calling me because I guess they have heard the news through Indian country and they ask me what they can do or if they can write letters of support.”
Brown says the time for positive remarks were two years ago. He said that if anyone comments now, it would only delay the process because they would have to wait an additional 60 days.
“The reason I say this is because after this 180 day waiting period, we have a 60 day response. We can waive this response period of 60 days if there are no comments. Even If someone writes a positive letter, we still have to respond and we will not be able to waive the response period. We are keeping our fingers crossed that we receive no comments positive or negative. That will move up our final report 60 days sooner,” Brown says.
Mark Tilden (Navajo) of Tilden McCoy + Dilweg LLP is the tribal attorney for the Pamunkey. According to Tilden, with all of the waiting periods and possible responses from third parties, the Pamunkey will probably see Federal Recognition in about one years’ time.
Tilden has seen and helped other tribes in their bid to be recognized and says the Pamunkey stand a good chance. “I think there is a strong likelihood. Yet having said that I think we need to wait and see If there are any third-party comments to the proposed findings and what those proposed comments entail.
“Unlike other tribes, the Pamunkey Tribe was able to go through this process relatively quicker than others. They filed their petition in 2010. It has been a good 3 1/2 years for the Pamunkey, Where other tribes have reached this point after decades,” Tilden said. “We have gone through this relatively quickly in comparison to other tribes but I still think they have the burden of going through stringent standards combined with a very costly process.”
Brown says he remembers the long process to state and federal recognition and the associated costs.
“It's been about 25 years,” Brown said. “We started back in 1981 and we dropped it because we ran out of money. Our paperwork sat in boxes for six or seven years. Then we began working with Mark Tilden. It's been a long haul.
“We received some monies from grants back in the ’90s, but we couldn't have done this without the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) – they spent money on us out of their general fund and a lot of people donated from all over the country through NARF to help with our federal recognition. They backed us the whole way. I know we've spent over $2 million dollars,” Brown said. “I've read that some tribes spent between $50 and $60 million and they still were denied.”
Brown says he is prepared to wait out and finish the process in which the tribe will still have to wait for a final decision by Washburn after the comments and rebuttal periods.
“Right now we are really happy and excited where we're at, but it really means nothing. We still have to get a final decision. There are tribes that have had a good and positive preliminary report but then for one reason or another they get a negative final decision,” Brown said. “This is not a 100 percent guarantee right now.”