July 28, 2011

Recognition for Va. tribes advances in U.S. Senate

By: Wesley P. Hester | Richmond Times-Dispatch
Link to original article

Legislation that would grant federal recognition to Virginia Indian tribes after more than a decade-long effort has passed the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, setting up a potential vote on the Senate floor.

If approved, the Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2011, introduced by Virginia Sens. Jim Webb and Mark R. Warner, both Democrats, would qualify the tribes for benefits through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other federal agencies.

Benefiting from the legislation would be the Chickahominy Tribe; the Chickahominy Indian Tribe, Eastern Division; the Upper Mattaponi Tribe; the Rappahannock Tribe Inc.; the Monacan Indian Nation; and the Nansemond Indian Tribe.

Each of the six tribes receives state recognition, but no Virginia tribe currently receives federal recognition.

"This is definitely good news," said Wayne Adkins, president of Virginia Indian Tribal Alliance for Life and assistant chief of the Chickahominy Tribe, who has been working on the issue for 12 years.

Adkins said the legislation would help with medical care for tribal elders and education for younger generations but added that "some of it is a matter of pride."

"The United States started in Virginia," he said. "It just doesn't seem right that none of Virginia's tribes are recognized by the federal government."

"We must honor the heritage of our Virginia tribes, a heritage aggravated in the past by racial hostility and state-sanctioned actions that greatly diminished their cultural identity," said Webb, who was aided by bipartisan support from Gov. Bob McDonnell and seven former governors.

Rep. James P. Moran, D-8th, has introduced companion legislation in the House.

Webb and Warner introduced the legislation last year, but after it cleared the committee, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., quashed it before it reached the floor, saying he believes the issue of recognition should be handled by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, not Congress.

Webb said that "racially hostile laws" formerly in effect in Virginia — including anti-miscegenation laws from 1691 to 1967 — have rendered normal administrative procedures insufficient "in resolving an issue of historic dignity and fairness." (804) 649-6976