Vincent Schilling
Assistant Chief Bob Gray, left, and Pamunkey Tribal Chief Kevin Brown have waited a long time to see their tribe gain federal recognition.

DOI Issues Determination: Pamunkey becomes No. 567; First Federally Recognized Tribe in Va.

Vincent Schilling

The Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Kevin K. Washburn issued final determinations today to acknowledge the Pamunkey Indian Tribe as a federally recognized Indian tribe. Additionally the Duwamish Tribal Organization has been denied.

According to the DOI, The Pamunkey Indian tribe, which has occupied its land base in southeastern King William County, Virginia – which was shown on a 1770 map as Indian Town – “was found to have met all seven mandatory criteria for Federal acknowledgment as set forth in 25 CFR Part 83.7.

This is the second federal acknowledgment to take place during the Obama Administration.

In a release Washburn said, “This work reflects the most solemn responsibilities of the United States. Our professional historians, anthropologists, and genealogists spent thousands of hours of staff time researching and applying our rigorous acknowledgment criteria to these petitions.”

Specifically, the Department determined that the Pamunkey Indian Tribe has:

— Continuously identified as an American Indian body since 1900;

— Existed as a distinct community and maintained political influence over its members since historical times;

— Provided governing documents describing its governance procedures and membership criteria;

— Provided a list of its current members who descend from a historical Indian tribe and who are not also members of another federally recognized tribe;

— Never been subject to congressional legislation that expressly terminated or forbade the federal relationship.

Pamunkey Chief Kevin Brown says he is elated as to the decision and is admittedly exhausted after a process that has taken decades.

“Overall, This is just really great,” Brown told ICTMN. “I got a call at 9:30 this morning and it was Kevin Washburn. I was surprised to hear the news because we were supposed to be told on July 29. Needless to say, it was a really good phone call from Kevin Washburn.

“Assistant Secretary Washburn said ‘we just want to let you know we have reviewed your application, we have looked at all the criteria and we are happy to say that you meet the criteria and you are the newest federally recognized tribe.”

After the phone call from Washburn, Brown said he immediately began telling tribal members the great news. “I have been making phone calls and sending emails, the calls are starting to come in everyone is really happy and congratulatory.”

Austin Alfonso, a 17-year-old Pamunkey tribal member who currently works for the tribe’s museum, says she is also excited that her tribe has been federally recognized.

“It is pretty awesome since we have been trying for so long. There have been a lot of bumps in the road. I am excited about how we can address such issues as education at a federal level since there are a lot of kids on this reservation.”

Nedra Darling of the Department of the Interior also spoke to ICTMN who said the announcement is a positive and emotional one.

“I cannot tell you how difficult it is to live in Virginia sometimes, but now we have a tribe that has been federally recognized. The Queen of England recognized the Pamunkey, but we haven’t until now. This is not to be taken lightly. This is a historic day for Virginia and for the United States,” Darling said.

After decades of working hard to get recognition for his tribe, Brown says he is now getting ready to take a break as chief.

“This was the last thing on my list to accomplish, after today I will be the former chief and Assistant chief Bob Gray will be stepping into my shoes. I want to leave on an amazing note. I was on council for 12 years before I was chief. This was during the 80s when we started and I have been involved in one way or another for about 25 years.”

Overall, Brown says gaining federal recognition is like “winning the championship and stepping down at the height of my career.”

When asked what Brown would do at the height of his career before stepping down as chief, he laughed heartily and said simply, “I'm going to Disney World!”

RELATED: Video: Pamunkey Tribe Steps Closer to Federal Recognition

Follow correspondent Vincent Schilling on twitter @VinceSchilling.

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bullbear's picture
Submitted by bullbear on
This truly momentous occasion will be the reason I will be celebrating this Fourth of July. Now the Fourth has greater meaning to me and I join in the resounding joy of our brothers and sisters of the Pamunkey Nation. Tonight as I prepare to sleep, I will get down on my knees and thank our Creator for this blessing upon all the youth, adults, elderly and those who have passed on that were born into the proud Pamunkey tribe. It is not the decree from the U.S. government that makes this a momentous time, rather it is the opening of doors to assist today and tomorrow's generations who have had to do without during those many, many years. As a member of the Apache/Navajo tribal nations, "Today I humbly share in this historical measure that brings tears of joy for all my brothers and sisters of the Pamunkey nation."

Kat1960's picture
Submitted by Kat1960 on

Dave54's picture
Submitted by Dave54 on
Hallelujah and Best Wishes to the Pamunkey and to everyone else who have worked so hard and so long to make this recognition of the very deserving happen. As bullbear noted, this does put an extra special meaning into this Fourth of July and into all that follow. Hallelujah!

builds-the-fire's picture
Submitted by builds-the-fire on
I echo bullbear's comments. I wanted to say congratulations, but congratulations doesn't seem right to say, so I echo bullbear and I will say that I am happy for the Pamunkey that they have been finally recognized. It brings new meaning to "we are still here" for me.