Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia denied VCI support for state recognition

Vincent Schilling, Today correspondent
6/30/09

RICHMOND, Va. – The Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia was dealt a wearisome blow last May when the Virginia Council on Indians voted 6-3 against issuing a recommendation to the governor’s office for state recognition.

The tribe, which has been actively seeking recognition through VCI for nearly three years, is not giving up. “It is not over,” said Chief Lynette Allston.

Though the VCI majority vote is in agreement with its findings from April, the Nottoway believe a majority of the process has been hindered by bias. Allard Allston, attorney for the tribe, has also found cause to question the VCI final voting process.

In a letter to Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, other state officials and members of VCI, Allard noted three of the final votes were invalid because three voting parties are not on the official list of voting members. He further indicated two of the voters had not attended any of the VCI meetings in the past 32 months.

“There is a precedent for not counting the three votes listed above in your past VCI practices,” he wrote.

He explained that in 2007, newly re-appointed at-large VCI member Mitchell Bush was informed he could not participate in any meetings until VCI had received written confirmation from the governor’s office of his re-appointment.

Allard claims votes can only be counted by members that have received a similar written confirmation.

“A split vote (of 3-3 if three votes were discounted) also likely reflects the reality of the opinions of those VCI members who have had the most consistent attendance at full VCI meetings for the last 18 months. I am speaking only of the full VCI here, and not the VCI Recognition Subcommittee.”

In response to scrutiny placed on the tribe by some individuals in the now disbanded Recognition Committee, several people over the past few months have offered public comment to the VCI board. Among them is former VCI Recognition Committee Chairperson Paige Archer.

She expressed frustration with the unfair process the tribe has had to endure. She told the VCI board that the recognition process was supposed to be “examined in a manner that is analogous to a civil case,” meaning the information presented is “more likely than not.” She noted that during her tenure as chairperson in 2007, Assistant Attorney General Jack Kotvas said the state recognition criteria were “guidelines, not law.”

Archer said the most recent committee members had signed conflict of interest statements, which determined they would not serve in the recognition process if they held bias for or against the petitioning organization. Archer felt Virginia historian Dr. Helen Rountree should not be part of the recognition committee because her involvement was “biased, malicious and intended to discredit the valid documents presented by the petitioners.”

Archer described an instance when Allston gave Rountree documents to review, “Dr. Rountree laid the documents on a table, ignored and dismissed them and began to knit continuously.” Archer called the action “unprofessional and an insult to the petitioners.”

In a subcommittee report, Archer noted that Rountree said some of the families couldn’t meet genealogical criteria because the claims rested “entirely on claims of an oral tradition.” Archer responded by stating oral history narratives were a key method in anthropological research.

At the conclusion of her statements, Archer said, “I again request that all comments by Dr. Rountree be removed from the final Recognition Committee report.” She called Rountree’s participation “a modern era effort to deny the Nottoway their identity in a manner similar to Dr. Walter Plecker (a historical white supremacist).”

Chief Allston has also addressed VCI in hopes of obtaining a successful
recommendation.

In April, she provided a letter written by Sen. L. Louise Lucas, D-VA., to Attorney General Robert F. McDonald in support of the recognition process. “It has been brought to my attention that the VCI has established and implemented ‘criteria for tribal recognition.’ ... that petitioning unrecognized tribes “must” satisfy all six of the criteria as a step towards official state recognition in Virginia. As a lay person, that sounds like a regulation.”

In May, Allston said, “The VCI has spent almost three years getting to know us at VCI meetings and by examining our petition and supplemental documents. Your role as an advisory body for the Commonwealth of Virginia is to reach a fair decision that has not been compromised by the attitudes and influences of others.

“The goal of the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia is to be acknowledged for who we are and to reclaim a place in Virginia history. Our great grandparents were still called Nottoway in the 1800s. We are still Nottoway in 2009.”

When asked about her position on the recognition process, Rountree did not wish to provide further comment. VCI Chairman Earl Bass also declined comment.

No response has yet been issued by Kaine’s office regarding Allston’s claims of unfair voting practices. At this point, the Nottoway will be seeking a formal proclamation from the governor’s office or a resolution by the General Assembly to obtain state recognition.

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