Six Virginia Congressmen reintroduced a bill on Wednesday that would grant six Virginia Indian tribes federal recognition. The Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2015 was brought to the House by Representatives by Republican Rob Wittman and Democrats Gerry Connolly, Don Beyer, and Bobby Scott, and to the Senate by Virginia senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, both Democrats.
Though the six tribes — the Chickahominy, the Eastern Chickahominy, the Upper Mattaponi, the Rappahannock, the Monacan and the Nansemond — have received state recognition, the groups have failed to gain recognition from the federal government.
Kaine faulted the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, saying it uses a national standard which neglects to take into account the unique situations of these Virginia Indian tribes.
“The absence of federal recognition has not been for lack of trying,” Kaine said in an email. “In fact, many tribes have vigorously pursued paths to recognition through the administrative process but have found it to be inefficient, expensive and confusing. The federal process, which is run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, uses a one-size-fits-all system that fails to account for extraordinary circumstances like the barriers Virginia tribes have often encountered.”
The source of the circumstances which have barred the six tribes from national recognition stems from Colonial times. Because the tribes formed treaties with the English government prior to the establishment of our country, the tribes have never entered into formal treaties with the American government.
However, if the bill is passed, the federal government will establish national relationships with the tribes and allow the tribes to maintain a permanent diplomacy with the U.S national government. The groups could then pursue the repatriation of historical and cultural artifacts, receive access to healthcare and emergency assistance and send their children to federal Native American schools and universities, among other benefits.
Kaine, who has advocated for the tribes since serving as Virginia’s governor, said he is disgruntled with colleagues who believe that the Bureau of Indian Affairs should be the only organization able to authorize such recognition.
“As governor of Virginia, I testified before Congress in support of the tribes and was deeply disappointed when they were not granted federal recognition before my term ended,” he said. “Unfortunately, we did not see a vote on the Senate floor in the 113th Congress because some members of Congress outside Virginia have objected to moving the legislation forward.”
Kaine said he believes tribal recognition would lead to a more prosperous relationship between the tribes and the Commonwealth, and feels it is owed to them. He said he will fight for new status even if the newest motion fails.
“I will continue to push for recognition no matter how long it takes,” Kaine said.
Congressman Rob Wittman agreed, saying the Virginia Indian tribes have waited for federal recognition longer than deserved.
“The history of these tribes is intertwined with the birth of our nation, and their federal recognition status is long overdue,” Wittman said in a press release. “I’m proud to work with the Virginia tribes to ensure that they are granted the recognition that they have been denied for far too long.”