- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 6, 2007

RICHMOND - For nearly a decade, six Virginia Indian tribes have pushed legislation seeking federal recognition, a promise of federal funds and a symbolic nod to those whose ancestors welcomed English settlers ages ago.

Again and again, they have failed.

Now, as America marks its birth along Virginias shores, tribal leaders are hanging their hopes on one bills passage by a House committee a small but significant step that could place the measure on the presidents desk in time for the 400th anniversary of Jamestown just days away.

A Democrat-controlled Congress, plus ironclad guarantees that the tribes wont pursue casino gambling, have helped put the bill on the fast track. But can lawmakers meet the Indian-imposed deadline, a date full of emotion for tribes ignored for centuries?

“Im optimistic that were going to get it,” said Gene Adkins, chief of the Eastern Chickahominy, among the tribes seeking recognition since the 1990s. “I just dont know when its going to happen.”

In theory, it could be this week.

On April 25, members of the House Natural Resources Committee approved legislation authored by Rep. James P. Moran Jr., Virginia Democrat, granting long-sought recognition to the Chickahominy, Upper Mattaponi, Rappahannock, Monacan and Nansemond tribes, as well as Mr. Adkins tribe.

That measure may go before the House this week.

A matching bill must pass the Senate, and should the two bodies approve differing legislation, a conference committee must work out the kinks before the bill proceeds.

That could be a costly delay for tribal leaders, who have zeroed in on this weekends pinnacle of Jamestown 2007 and even threatened to boycott the special events failing recognition.

Still, this is the first time the bill has cleared a key House committee.

“If it goes out on the floor in the House, and it passes there, it will certainly be a boost to get into the Senate,” Mr. Adkins said.

The federal government recognizes more than 500 American Indian tribes.

Hundreds more are like the Virginia Indians recognized by the state but lacking the federal recognition entitling them to millions in federal funds distributed to tribes annually.

It is cash that leaders hope can invigorate Virginias modest community of 24,261 Indians, for costs such as college tuition.

Until now, recognition has been dashed by Congress when it was controlled by Republicans who were fixated on the issue of Indian gambling, said Austin Durrer, a spokesman for Mr. Moran.

The shift to Democratic control and the installation of bill co-sponsor Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, West Virginia Democrat, as committee chairman have given the legislation new life, Mr. Durrer said.

Virginias Indian leaders made a major concession: a House amendment ensuring they wont bring gambling to the commonwealth.

But the concession comes at the cost of creating friction with other tribes, who worry about giving up such a key marker of tribal independence the right to decide for themselves about gambling.

“It sets as precedent that every tribe that comes after us would probably be asked to do the same thing,” said Wayne Adkins, whose Virginia Indian Tribal Alliance for Life supports the bill.

Virginia Indian leaders have repeatedly said they arent interested in building bustling casinos.

Frequent opponent Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, hasnt decided whether he will support the measure, said spokesman Dan Scandling.

“We think its a step in the right direction,” Mr. Scandling said. “But were still trying to figure out if it does everything it says it will do.”

But recognition for Virginias tribes may carry a high cost. They have skipped the Bureau of Indian Affairs method of gaining recognition a decades-long process of record review in favor of the congressional route.

Its faster. But it also rattles other tribes, who have waited on the bureaus list for years.

“The legislative process is dependent on the amount of resources that a tribe may or may not have,” said Michael Cook, head of United South and Eastern Tribes, a coalition opposed to congressional recognition.

“It creates an unbalanced playing field.”

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