- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The House of Representatives passed a resolution yesterday that puts six Virginia Indian tribes a step closer to gaining federal recognition, although it limits their ability to pursue casino deals that have helped other tribes flourish financially.

“With today’s vote, the Virginia tribes are closer than ever before to gaining their rightful place of honor,” said Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, who sponsored the measure. “The Native Americans who greeted the first English settlers at Jamestown have endured many hardships to get to this point, surviving state-sponsored racism and a brutal repression meant to erase them from the historical record. Today’s vote is the arrowhead needed to pierce these long-standing injustices.”

Chief Stephen R. Adkins of the Chickahominy Tribe dubbed the vote yesterday as “historic.”

The bill, titled “The Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2006” would give the Chickahominy, Chickahominy Eastern Division, Upper Mattaponi, Rappahannock, Monacan and Nansemond tribes the sovereign status that 562 other tribes already enjoy.

Federal recognition would allow the tribes to compete for educational funds and other grants, as well as health care benefits that are currently open to federally recognized tribes.

“The members of these tribes have worked tirelessly and deserve greater autonomy and control to deal with tribal housing, health care and education,” said Rep. Jo Ann Davis, Virginia Republican and a co-sponsor of the bill.

All the excitement surrounding Jamestown’s 400th anniversary commemoration this weekend has opened a window for the tribal leaders to plead their case to a national audience.

Last week, Virginia Indian chiefs met Queen Elizabeth II in Richmond, and new exhibits inside Jamestown Settlement detail their experience more than ever.

“After 400 years of injustice and discrimination, these tribes have waited long enough, and it is only fitting that the Congress should seize on this opportunity to exercise our constitutional authority and set right a very horrible wrong,” said Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, West Virginia Democrat and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, which approved the bill last week.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine called the vote “a major step toward reconciling an historic wrong for Virginia and the nation.”

Now there is some pressure on the Senate to pass the resolution before the end of the week.

However, even with provisions curbing gambling, some on Capitol Hill are still concerned that if the resolution passes, tribes will pursue their gambling interests in the courts.

Under the plan, the six Virginia tribes would be able to bypass the federal government’s costly process for recognition.

Normally, tribes must meet the criteria of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, including a provision that they are identified as “an American Indian entity on a substantially continuous basis since 1900.”

Mr. Moran pointed to Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which forced Indians to identify themselves as “colored” and led to the destruction of records, to justify the plan to sidestep the normal process.

Some refer to the 1924 act as the “paper genocide.”

“To call oneself a ‘Native American’ in Virginia was to risk a jail sentence of up to one year,” Mr. Moran said. “This state-imposed policy has left gaps in the Virginia tribes’ historical record. These gaps make it nearly impossible for the tribes to pursue federal recognition through the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs process. Their last resort is pursuing an act of Congress, which they have been doing for the past seven years.”

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