- The Washington Times - Friday, May 3, 2002

RICHMOND One of the most famous Indians in American history, Pocahontas, came from Virginia.
But ask a Virginian to name the eight tribes living in the state today, and you would be hard-pressed to find someone who could name one, says Gene Adkins, assistant chief of the Eastern Chickahominy tribe.
"People don't know who we are," he says. "I think we're better off today than what we were 20 or 30 years ago, but there's still that identity problem."
Mr. Adkins' tribe and five others across the state will take an important step toward bolstering their presence this weekend when they hold the largest powwow in Virginia in 400 years. While the tribes have historically had minimal interaction with one another, there's much more at stake this year: sovereignty status granted by the U.S. government.
Three years ago, the tribes the Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Nansemond, Rappahannock, Monacan and Upper Mattaponi banded together to lobby Congress to formally recognize them, making them eligible for millions in federal grants. The tribes range in size from about 100 to 1,500.
A bill was introduced in the House last year by Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, but it stalled in committee. The tribes, united under the name Virginia Indian Tribal Alliance for Life (VITAL), hope to breathe life back into the bill this year, and have a similar one introduced in the Senate.
Sovereignty would give Indians control over their own affairs and make available grants and loans for Indian-language schools, cultural centers and health benefits for the elderly.
More than 500 tribes have been recognized nationwide. None has been recognized in Virginia.
"If the government doesn't recognize you, then other tribes don't, either," said Mary Wade of the Monacan Tribe. "We want the respect of recognition. We've needed to do this for the longest time."
It's the first time the six tribes have held a concurrent gathering since the 1600s, when there were more than 30 different tribal settlements in the region, said organizer Powhatan Owen of the Chickahominy tribe. Back then, powwows had a practical function, as well as a social one. Mr. Owen said the tribes would meet at harvest time with their respective stores of food, and a central food bank would be created for the entire group to share.
"If one went hungry, all went hungry," he said.
It was also a time of homecoming for the tribes, Mr. Owen said. People would visit with old friends and relatives and perform dances. Many would be married, or conduct special ceremonies in which their children's names were chosen.
While the practical side of the powwow has changed slightly VITAL hopes to raise enough money to pay its lawyers and lobbyists the social function hasn't.
As many as 3,000 people are expected to attend the two-day event, to be held in Charles City at the Chickahominy tribal grounds. Dancers, drummers, singers, and food and crafts booths are planned.

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