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Virginia tribes gain new backing on recognition bill
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Filed Under: Politics | Recognition

Six Virginia tribes seeking federal recognition gained a new ally on Tuesday when freshman Sen. Jim Webb (D-Virginia) said he would back their efforts.

H.R.1294 recognizes the Chickahominy Tribe, the Chickahominy Tribe-Eastern Division, the Upper Mattaponi Tribe, the Rappahannock Tribe, the Monacan Nation and the Nansemond Tribe. The bill overwhelmingly passed the House in May.

Despite the strong support, Webb -- who defeated former Sen. George Allen, a Republican who sponsored the recognition bill in prior sessions of Congress -- was holding out. But after several months of study, Webb said he supports the legislation.

"Through this review, I have concluded this legislation is a simple matter of fairness. Four hundred years after the founding of America's first colony at Jamestown, these six tribes deserve to join our nation's 562 other federally recognized tribes," Webb said.

Webb wrote a letter to the leaders of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, urging them to schedule a mark-up on the bill in order to get it passed "this year." Events to commemorate the Jamestown settlement and the role tribes played have been taking place all year in Virginia.

Webb's announcement leaves Sen. John Warner (R-Virginia) as the only unknown player while the bill awaits consideration in the Senate. Though he previously co-sponsored a recognition bill, Warner has said he is concerned about the potential for the tribes to open casinos against the will of state voters.

To address that concern, the Virginia tribes agreed to a provision that bars them from conducting gaming "as a matter of claimed inherent authority or under the authority of any federal law," according to H.R.1294. The concession led Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Virginia), a longtime critic of the BIA and the federal recognition process, to vote in favor of the bill in May.

Similar provisions have been included in other federal recognition acts. Two tribes in Texas were forced to shut down their casinos because the courts ruled that they agreed to a prohibition on gaming.

Other tribes -- mainly in New England -- have also been barred from opening casinos because they agreed to state jurisdiction on their lands. Challenges have been rejected in the state and federal courts.

The Virginia tribes could avoid the issue by going through the BIA's federal recognition process. But a unique state law and policy that barred Virginia citizens from being identified as Indian means that they would have trouble meeting the evidentiary requirements for recognition.

The tribes would also have to wait decades for an answer. The BIA has a backlog of federal recognition petitions dating back to the early 1980s.

Despite the hurdles, Congress has been reluctant to grant legislative recognition. Democrats and Republicans have expressed concerns about bypassing the BIA -- though Republicans have been more vocal in their opposition.

The last time a tribe gained legislative recognition was in 2000. But Congress never held hearings on the Shawnee Tribe's bill, which was signed in the final days of the Clinton administration and was attached to an "omnibus" bill.

Prior to that, Congress recognized the Catawba Nation of South Carolina and a handful of Michigan tribes in the mid-1990s, during the Clinton years. Since then, no other tribes have come as close to legislative recognition as the ones from Virginia.

"I am delighted that Senator Webb has endorsed a bill in the Senate to grant such recognition," said Wayne Adkins, a member of the Chickahominy Tribe and the president of Virginia Indian Tribal Alliance for Life, a group lobbying for the bill.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee has yet to schedule a hearing on H.R.1294. But the committee held a hearing last month on the federal recognition process and the problems petitioning groups face.

H.R.1294 was introduced in March. It lost one of its co-sponsors with the death of Rep. Jo Ann Davis (D-Virginia) on October 6.

Relevant Documents:
Press Release | Letter to SCIA

Recognition Bill:
Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act (H.R.1294)

Relevant Links:
Virginia Indians Tribal Alliance For Life -

Related Stories:
Column: Virginia recognition bill stalled in Senate (07/30)
Voice of America: Virginia tribes wait on status (05/18)
Bush: Virginia tribes paid cost for Jamestown (5/14)
Opinion: The Jamestown invasion and genocide (5/14)
No rush for Virginia recognition bill in Senate (5/10)
Editorial: Take up Virginia recognition in Senate (5/10)
Virginia tribes clear hurdle in House (5/9)
House passes Virginia tribes recognition bill (5/9)
Gaming affects federal recognition bills (5/8)
Vote expected on Virginia recognition bill (5/8)
Pat Buchanan: Indians had the land and we took it (5/8)
Virginia tribes hope 2007 is year for recognition (5/7)
Editorial: A step forward for Virginia's tribes (5/7)
Opinion: Virginia Indians advocate 'mythology' (5/4)
Rep. Moran expects vote on Virginia recognition (5/3)
Editorial: Virginia tribes deserve recognition (5/1)
Virginia recognition bill clears House committee (4/26)
Virginia tribes make case for recognition bill (4/19)
Adkins: Virginia tribes deserve federal recognition (4/18)
House hearing on Lumbee, Virginia recognition (4/18)
Virginia tribe optimistic on recognition in 2007 (12/06)
Letter: Indians are the Palestinians of Virginia (10/16)
Editorial: No recognition for Virginia's tribes (10/10)
Virginia tribal recognition bill remains in limbo (09/07)
Virginia Indians set to return from trip to England (07/20)
Senate panel to consider Virginia recognition bill (07/19)
Virginia Indians enjoy historic week in England (07/18)
Virginia tribes make historic trip to England (07/13)
Virginia tribes head to England to share history (07/10)
House, Senate panels take up recognition bills (06/22)
Virginia tribes press for recognition measure (06/22)
Virginia tribes make case for recognition bill (6/2)
Virginia tribes jockey for federal recognition (5/26)
Bill introduced to recognize Rappahannock Tribe (04/07)
Virginia tribe won't boycott Jamestown events (01/20)
Book Review: Virginia Indians not friendly to settlers (10/25)
Virginia tribal leaders visit grave of Pocahontas (07/28)
Virginia tribal delegation heads off for England (07/15)
Virginia tribal leaders on historic trip to England (7/11)
Groups call for changes to Virginia recognition bill (7/6)
Editorial: Federal recognition a matter of justice (05/24)
Virginia tribes to mark Jamestown in England (05/09)
Six Virginia tribes to gather for annual powwow (03/25)
Editorial: Virginia tribes in need of recognition (03/14)
Virginia tribe not optimistic on recognition bid (02/11)
Virginia tribes fight for federal recognition (10/12)
Bill seeks to speed recognition process for tribes (2/7)
Virginia tribes fight for federal recognition (10/12)
Rep. Moran: Virginia tribes deserve recognition (06/24)
Virginia tribes press case for federal recognition (06/17)
Senate panel backs recognition of Virginia tribes (05/10)
Virginia tribes press case for federal recognition (04/19)
Virginia tribes seeks support for recognition bill (03/15)
Va. tribes seek recognition for Jamestown 2007 (2/16)
Senate bill to recognize six Va. tribes advances (10/30)
GOP Editorial: Say no to Virginia's tribes (05/19)
BIA opposes Va. recognition bill (09/27)
Va. tribes rally for sovereignty (4/30)
Recognition of Va. tribes opposed (1/26)
Recognition bills crowd Congress (11/29)
Virginia tribes: Recognition Yes, Casinos No (09/19)

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