Pamunkey Tribe awaits final answer on federal recognition bid

Kevin Brown, the chief of the Pamunkey Tribe of Virginia. Photo from American Nativity

The Pamunkey Tribe of Virginia is waiting on the Bureau of Indian Affairs to make a final decision on its federal recognition petition.

The BIA issued a proposed finding in favor of the tribe back in January 2014. That triggered a comment period in which opponents questioned an outdated marriage policy that appeared to discriminate against people who married African-Americans.

The law was repealed in 2012 and the tribe hasn't enforced it, Chief Kevin Brown said. But some members of the Congressional Black Caucus called for a Department of Justice inquiry into the policy.

Then there's MGM Resorts International. The company is building a $1.2 billion casino in neighboring Maryland that could be threatened if the tribe ever decides to pursue gaming.

Full-scale gaming isn't legal in Virginia at this point. But if the Pamunkeys went down that road, it would likely take at least 10 years before a casino became a reality, based on the length of time it has taken recently recognized tribes to do the same.

The BIA's final determination could come at the end of the month. If the agency sides with the Pamunkeys, they would be the first tribe to gain recognition through the administrative process since the Shinnecock Nation of New York in October 2010.

“It will be historic justice,” Chief Brown told The Washington Post. “We met the English and John Smith. Pocahontas was Pamunkey. It’s crazy that we’re not recognized. We should have been the first recognized tribe.”

The tribe resides on a 1,200-acre reservation that was one of the first set aside in the Colonial era. The tribe also was one of the first to sign a treaty with a European nation.

Like other tribes in Virginia, the Pamunkeys nearly had their existence erased from official records due to a racist state law that barred people from identifying themselves as Indian.

Get the Story:
A famed Virginia Indian tribe seeks federal recognition amid casino fears (The Washington Post 3/23)

Federal Register Notice:
Proposed Finding for Federal Acknowledgment of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe (January 23, 2014)

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