- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 4, 2009

House lawmakers on Wednesday approved legislation granting federal recognition to six Virginia Indian tribes, placing the matter in the hands of the Senate and putting the groups one step closer to their decade-long goal.

“We’re very hopeful, but we know there’s a lot of work to be done,” said Wayne Adkins, an assistant chief with the Chickahominy Indian tribe.

The measure introduced by Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, cleared the chamber on a voice vote. It would grant federal recognition to about 4,000 members of the Chickahominy, Chickahominy Indians Eastern Division, Nansemond, Rappahannock and Upper Mattaponi tribes as well as the Monacan Indian Nation.

The status would allow the Virginia tribes, which have a history intertwined with the Jamestown settlers, to compete for federal grants and benefits open to federally recognized tribes. More than 560 tribes have achieved recognition by meeting stringent federal criteria or through means such as congressional legislation, executive orders and treaties.

Mr. Moran initially introduced similar legislation in 1999. The bill also cleared the House in a similar form in 2007, but the legislation died last year in the Senate, where Sen. Jim Webb, Virginia Democrat, had sponsored it.

Mr. Webb introduced his companion legislation again in the Senate on Wednesday after the approval of Mr. Moran’s measure, with Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat and former Virginia governor, as a co-sponsor.

“A good deal of staff time and resources have gone into laying the groundwork for the reintroduction of this bill to ensure a successful outcome in this Congress,” Mr. Webb said.

Mr. Moran’s latest measure was amended to alleviate some concerns regarding the tribes placing land in trust with the federal government. Debate over the bill also centered in part on the fact that Indian tribes can achieve federal recognition through a process set up in 1978 by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which some see as the preferred method for gaining the status.

Rep. David Dreier, California Republican and ranking member on the House Committee on Rules, said Wednesday that nine other tribes are awaiting a decision from the bureau.

“While the situation of the Virginia tribes is difficult … we need to consider the overall fairness of our actions,” Mr. Dreier said.

The Virginia tribes have said that the bureau process - which requires tribes to prove that they have been “an American Indian entity on a substantially continuous basis since 1900” - is time-consuming and cost-prohibitive, while some lawmakers call it “broken.”

Mr. Moran on the House floor Wednesday referred to Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which officials say forced Indians to identify themselves as “colored” and led to the destruction and alteration of genealogical records.

Tribal proponents say the Virginia law amounted to a “paper genocide” and makes the bureau process difficult for the six groups, although there are some genealogical records that do exist and have been submitted to the bureau.

“It appears that there are records in Virginia notwithstanding the fact that the state of Virginia went through this process in the last century,” said Rep. Doc Hastings, Washington Republican and ranking member on the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Still, the bill’s passage was cheered by supporters, including in-state proponents such as Gov. Tim Kaine, who called the vote “a major step towards reconciling an historic wrong for Virginia and the nation.”

“This is the right thing to do,” Mr. Moran said.

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