After Years Of Trying, Congress Approves Recognition Of Virginia Tribes

Jan 11, 2018

Credit (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Six Virginia Native American tribes are cheering. After a twenty-year effort, the United States Senate unanimously approved legislation that recognizes the Commonwealth’s tribes. 

The British government has recognized the Chickahominy, the Eastern Chickahominy, the Upper Mattaponi, the Rappahannock, the Monacan, and the Nansemond tribes, but the U. S. government never has. That’s because the paperwork necessary to gain federal recognition was destroyed after the Civil War by a racist record keeper who scrubbed the Commonwealth’s diverse heritage from the history books. While the House of Representatives had passed the measure three times in the past, it has always been held up in the Senate. That is, until Thursday when it passed on a unanimous voice vote

Unlike other tribes across the U.S., the legislation prohibits these tribes from operating casinos. But federal recognition now gives them access to other federal programs, like housing and health care programs.

Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner says it’s a huge victory.  “In the United States Congress, in the United States Senate, occasionally we get things right. And boy, oh boy today is a day where we get things right on a civil rights basis, on a moral basis, on a fairness basis,” Warner said.

Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine congratulated the tribal leaders after they watched the bill pass from the Senate gallery. “We knew you would never give up," Kaine told them.   "We sometimes wondered if you were going to give up on us. But we knew you would never give up until it was done.”

Steven Atkins, Chief of the Chickahominy Indian Tribe, is ecstatic.   “It would probably be an understatement to say I was surprised. I was just blown out of the water," Atkins said. "But I’ve never given up faith that it’s going to happen. I believe in America. I believe that at the end of the day we do the right thing.”

Atkins is disappointed that it took so long. “I do lament the fact that a lot of our Indian leaders have died during this process and they didn’t get to revel in this victory that we’ve achieved today. But I think it’s a victory for all of Virginia. It’s a victory for Indians all over the Commonwealth and beyond,” he said.

President Trump still needs to sign the measure.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.