Virginia Tribes Get Senate Hearing
By NEIL H. SIMON, Media General News Service
September 25 2008
WASHINGTON—Calling the treatment of Virginia’s American Indian tribes “criminal by today’s standards,” the top U.S. senator on Indian affairs said Virginia tribes could see action within six months on a bill to grant them federal recognition.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, made the announcement at a hearing on the bill that included testimony from Gov. Timothy Kaine, D-Va.
Despite coming on the eve of Congress’ planned adjournment, Virginia chiefs said it gave them new optimism for a bill they’ve been lobbying for since 1999.
“I leave here with hope” said Chief Stephen Adkins of the Chickahominy Tribe after the hearing. “I’m very optimistic the right thing is going to happen.”
Federal recognition would make the six tribes eligible for federal funds for housing, education and senior care for the tribes’ estimated 3,000 members. The legislation bars them from pursuing gambling.
The House passed the bill (HR 1294) in May 2007. Thursday’s Senate hearing was the furthest it has ever gone in the legislative process.
But with Congress set to adjourn as soon as lawmakers pass a major economic bailout, tribal activists knew passage of their bill in the final hours was unlikely. Dorgan told them to look ahead to next year.
“Hopefully in the first quarter when we get back next year, this committee will take action and make a decision,” Dorgan said, adding that Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., had been “irritatingly aggressive” in urging the committee to hold a hearing on the bill.
Danny Jefferson, a member of the Chickahominy Tribe, said it felt good to have lawmakers hear their story again, but he was hoping this year would be the year for action.
“We were looking at the last quarter of this year,” he said. “The evidence is all there.”
In 1983 the commonwealth officially recognized the six tribes now seeking federal recognition: Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Upper Mattaponi, Rappahannock, Nansemond, and Monacan Indian Nation.
Kaine called federal recognition of the Virginia tribes a matter of “fundamental justice.”
Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., said a 1924 Virginia law called the Racial Integrity Act amounted to “a paper genocide,” by forcing indigenous people to declare themselves white or colored on state records. The Supreme Court struck down the law in 1967.
Moran introduced the recognition bill in 1999. He argued Thursday Virginia tribes face an unfair challenge in trying to demonstrate their ancestry to the federal government because of the state’s old records law.
“We’ve got to rectify this,” Moran said.
(I for one believe that many folks claiming Cherokee Ancestry, really come from other tribes but since they can't prove that ancestry they try to claim Cherokee ancestry - with the hopes of gaining recognition via associations with the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma - so maybe this will begin to curtail all the self ID Indians from stealing Cherokee IDs)