On Thursday January 11th, 2018, U.S. Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner secured the final passage of the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2017.
Once signed by the President, the legislation will grant federal recognition of the following six Virginia tribes: the Chickahominy, the Eastern Chickahominy, the Upper Mattaponi, the Rappahannock, the Monacan, and the Nansemond.
The bill, which has never before made it to the proverbial Senate stage, has had a long history of nearly passing. U.S. Senators and members of the House of Representatives from Virginia have pushed for federal recognition since the 1990s, with Senators George Allen and John Warner first introducing this legislation in the Senate in 2002.
Senators Kaine and Warner (both previous Virginia Governors) introduced this legislation in the Senate in the 113th and 114th Congresses, and Warner had introduced it in prior Congresses.
Many of these Virginia tribes include descendants of Pocahontas’ Virginia Powhatan tribe. These tribes had received official state recognition from the Commonwealth of Virginia, but had not received federal recognition, a status which will grant the tribes legal standing in direct relationships with the U.S. government and other institutions such as museums.
As described on a release, Senators Kaine and Warner worked with Democratic and Republican colleagues to ensure that the bill made it through to final passage. U.S. Senators and members of the House of Representatives from Virginia have pushed for federal recognition since the 1990s, with Senators George Allen and John Warner first introducing this legislation in the Senate in 2002.
Ahead of the bills passage on the Senate floor, Senator Kaine shared his thoughts. “This is about Virginia tribes that were here and encountered the English when they arrived in [Jamestown] in 1607, the tribes of Pocahontas and other wonderful Virginians. They are living tribes, never recognized by the federal government for a series of reasons. . . . It’s a fundamental issue of respect, and fairly acknowledging a historical record, and a wonderful story of tribes that are living, thriving and surviving and are a rich part of our heritage. This is a happy day to stand up on their behalf,” said Senator Kaine.
Senator Warner also shared his thoughts on the floor immediately after Kaine. “We and some of the folks who are in the gallery today were not sure this day would ever come, but even here in the United States Congress and the United States Senate, occasionally we get things right. And boy, oh, boy, this is a day where we get things right on a civil rights basis, on a moral basis, on a fairness basis, and to our friends who are representatives of some of the six tribes who are finally going to be granted federal recognition, we want to say thank you for their patience, their perseverance, their willingness to work with us and others,” said Senator Warner.
Watch a video from Senator Mark Warner’s Facebook page:
Assistant Chief Wayne Adkins from the Chickahominy Indian tribe, who was present at the vote, told Indian Country Today he was “feeling pretty good,” but stated through his optimism that he “knew anything could happen at this point.”
“Senators Warner and Kaine really pushed hard for us. In terms of this bill getting signed by the President, everyone we talked so seems optimistic,” said Adkins.
Adkins told Indian Country Today he was caught a bit off guard when the chairman announced the bill had passed. “It was surreal after 18 years of working. It definitely was not a let down, but when you put it so much work after so many years, it was strange to be such a brief moment,” he said.
Congressman Wittman said in a release, “Today we have taken a critical step forward in correcting the Federal Government’s failure to recognize the ‘first contact’ tribes of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Decades in the making, federal recognition will acknowledge and protect historical and cultural identities of these tribes for the benefit of all Americans. It will also affirm the government-to-government relationship between the United States and the Virginia tribes, and help create opportunities to enhance and protect the well-being of tribal members. I want to thank Senators Kaine and Warner for their support to give these tribes the recognition they have long deserved.”
This version of the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act, which originated in the House of Representatives and was introduced by Virginia Congressman Rob Wittman, previously passed in the House unanimously in May.
Once signed by the President, federal recognition will allow Virginia’s tribes legal standing and status in direct relationships with the U.S. government.
Further, the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act will allow tribes to do the following as a federally recognized tribe:
- Compete for educational programs and other grants only open to federally recognized tribes.
- Repatriate the remains of their ancestors in a respectful manner. Many of these remains reside in the Smithsonian, but without federal status there is no mandate to return the remains.
- Provide affordable health care services for elder tribal members who have been unable to access care.
These tribal leaders were in attendance in the Senate Gallery for the vote last Thursday:
W. Frank Adams, Chief, Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe
Stephen R. Adkins, Chief, Chickahominy Indian Tribe
Wayne B. Adkins, Chair of VITAL and Assistant Chief, Chickahominy Indian Tribe
Dean Branham, Chief, Monacan Nation
Lee Lockamy, Chief Nansemond Indian Tribe
Frank Richardson, representing Chief Anne Richardson, Rappahannock Tribe
Gerald A. Stewart, Assistant Chief, Eastern Chickahominy Indian Tribe
When the bill is signed into law, the amount of U.S. federally recognized tribes will go from 567 to 573.
Indian Country Today’s Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter