- Associated Press - Friday, October 9, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A California organization that favors gambling limits is challenging an Interior Department decision to grant federal recognition to a Virginia Indian tribe.

The Washington Post reports (https://wapo.st/1PkVRAX) the last-minute appeal by Stand Up for California effectively puts the Pamunkey Indian Tribe’s federal recognition on hold until the Interior Board of Indian Appeals makes its ruling. It’s unclear when a decision might be made.

The tribe has been seeking federal recognition for 35 years, and in July it became the first in Virginia to win the Interior Department’s approval.

The federal designation allows the tribe to receive certain federal benefits on medical care, housing and education, among other things. The designation also opens up the possibility that the tribe could open a casino on its 1,200-acre reservation about 25 miles east of Richmond, though the roughly 200-member tribe has said it has no plans to do so.

In its appeal, the Penryn, California-based organization wrote that the tribe didn’t meet many of the qualifications for federal status. The group also fears the precedent set by granting the Pamunkey federal status could make it too easy for dozens of other tribes in California to meet the requirements, the newspaper reported.

“I think I’ve submitted significant historical information that deserves reconsideration,” Cheryl Schmitt, who runs the California organization, told the newspaper. “The ancestors they’ve identified do not appear to be members of the original tribe.”

The Pamunkey is already recognized by Virginia’s government, and each Thanksgiving in an oft-photographed ceremony the tribe’s chief visits the governor of Virginia in a tribute ceremony. The ceremony recalls a treaty signed in 1677 between the colony’s governor and several Indian leaders, including the Pamunkey. The tribe was considered the most powerful in the Powhatan Paramount Chiefdom, which greeted the English settlers at Jamestown, and claims Pocahontas among its lineage.

“Stand Up for California’s request to the IBIA for reconsideration is unfounded, meritless, and unsupported by evidence,” Mark C. Tilden said in a statement. “The Tribe’s sovereign strength, which traces back well before the arrival of the earliest colonists to Virginia, will see it through this frivolous attack as it has seen it through so many other thoughtless, mean-spirited attacks in the past.”

There are 566 federally recognized tribes. The Pamunkey would be the 567th. An additional 356 tribes are seeking federal recognition.

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Information from: The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com


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