6 Virginia Tribes Reattempt Federal Recognition through Act of Congress

Vincent Schilling

Last Wednesday, several Virginia Congressmen reintroduced the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act in hopes that six Virginia Indian tribes will eventually receive official federal recognition by an act of congress.

The Thomasina E. Jordan bill has been introduced several times including the 113th congress in May of 2013, but has not been enacted.

The six tribes, which are all recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia and are currently seeking to gain federal recognition are the Chickahominy, the Eastern Chickahominy, the Upper Mattaponi, the Rappahannock, the Monacan and the Nansemond.

The 2015 bill was brought to the House by Republican Rob Wittman and Democrats Gerry Connolly, Don Beyer, and Bobby Scott, and to the Senate by Virginia senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, both Democrats.

In an article by the Cavalier Daily, former Virginia Governor and now Senator Kaine said the Bureau of Indian Affairs is at fault for the inability of the Virginia Tribes to obtain recognition and that the BIA “uses a national standard which neglects to take into account the unique situations of these Virginia Indian tribes.”

RELATED: Tribe Laments Grueling Tribal Federal Recognition Bureaucracy

“The absence of federal recognition has not been for lack of trying,” Kaine said in an email to the Cavalier Daily. “In fact, many tribes have vigorously pursued paths to recognition through the administrative process but have found it to be inefficient, expensive and confusing. The federal process, which is run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, uses a one-size-fits-all system that fails to account for extraordinary circumstances like the barriers Virginia tribes have often encountered.”

Though the Virginia tribes have been seeking to attain federal recognition for decades, the Virginia tribes face considerable difficulties due to the fact they signed treaties with the English government and not the United States.

RELATED: White Supremacists from 1920s Still Thwarting Virginia Tribes

Sharon Bryant, Chief of the Monacan Nation told ICTMN in an email that though it feels good to have bipartisan support for the bill, for the tribes in Virginia, it is a matter of human justice and civil rights.

“The issue goes beyond partisan politics,” wrote Bryant. “We do appreciate and are deeply honored that these gentlemen exhibit the courage of their convictions by supporting our fight for Federal Recognition.”

Though the bill has not received enough support in the past to move forward, Bryant said she was optimistic for 2015. “Each time our bill is submitted we are always hopeful for a positive vote. We do absolutely believe that it is our right as descendants of Virginia's indigenous people to request and receive status as a federally recognized tribe.”

Bryant also told ICTMN that though they are seeking federal recognition through an act of Congress as opposed to the BIA, “we are actually taking the more common route. Contrary to popular belief, more tribes have been recognized by Congress than the BIA,” she wrote.

Tribes are often queried about opening gambling operations, but Bryant said they do not have an intention to do so.

“We have no history with the establishment of gaming/casinos in this country nor with the environment of animosity currently surrounding it. Yet the authentic Virginia tribes are repeatedly submitted to questions concerning our position on casinos. Our bill states that we will not open a casino upon receiving Federal Recognition.

“When and how did the heritage of our bloodline become so unfairly and inexplicably connected to casinos? Is the issue of gaming a roadblock or a ‘trigger’ to strike fear into the hearts and minds of American citizens? We do not know and are truly insulted by the unspoken implication that, bemuse we are Indian, we will want to gamble,” wrote Bryant.

“The Virginia tribes have paid a high price to exist here. After agreeing to be peaceful and choosing to live our lives outside of mainstream society, it seems we became irrelevant to the people in power,” she continued. “Over the last several hundred years we have seen our village and burial sites plowed under in the name of progress and prosperity and we have seen our land, language and traditions dwindle away in our daily struggles to survive.

“Yet, here we are still, hanging on to our identity and culture despite considerable adversity. So, becoming a federally recognized tribe is definitely, for us, not about casinos but about righting a wrong and seeking justice for the inequality and misrepresentation perpetrated against our ancestors (which continues on many levels even today), helping our young people and elders have a better quality of life, and a desperate hope to secure a future that encompasses our cultural identity for our grandchildren's grandchildren.”

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