Pamunkey Tribe faces big hurdle in placing reservation into trust

Chief Kevin Brown of the Pamunkey Tribe, center, is blessed with an honor song during the New Day Now rally at the U.S. Capitol on June 16, 2015. Photo by Indianz.Com

The Pamunkey Tribe of Virginia won a historic federal recognition decision from the Bureau of Indian Affairs this month, a six-year process that included four trips to England to find all the necessary documents.

Yet a potentially even bigger hurdle lies ahead. The tribe resides on a 1,200-acre reservation that was set aside in the 1600s but it's not considered Indian Country because it isn't in trust.

Other recently recognized tribes followed the land-into-trust process at the Bureau of Indian Affairs to acquire their initial reservations. The landscape, however, changed in 2009 with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar.

In that case, the justices held that the BIA can only acquire land for tribes that were "under federal jurisdiction" in 1934, the year the Indian Reorganization Act became law. The Pamunkeys would have to address the decision if it wants to follow the process.

Of the last three tribes that gained recognition through the BIA, the Cowlitz Tribe of Washington has shown that it meets the "under federal jurisdiction" test. The BIA placed a 152-acre site in trust for the tribe in March as an initial reservation.

The recently-recognized Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts has not yet completed the land-into-process for its initial reservation. A decision was promised more than two years ago by the BIA but there is no timeline for an answer.

The Shinnecock Nation of New York, the other recently-recognized tribe, is not currently in the process.

Get the Story:
Is a casino in Virginia’s future now that the Pamunkey have U.S. recognition? (The Washington Post 7/12)

An Opinion:
Michael J. O’Connor: Pamunkey ruling brings financial risk to Virginia (The Richmond Times-Dispatch 7/12)

Relevant Documents:
Letter to Chief Brown | Notice of Final Determination

Federal Register Notices:
Final Determination for Federal Acknowledgment of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe (July 8, 2015)
Proposed Finding for Federal Acknowledgment of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe (January 23, 2014)

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