Bill to Recognize Virginia Indian Tribes Passes House

May 17, 2017

A measure to recognize Virginia's six tribes from Representative Rob Wittman, seen here at a committee hearing in 2011, passed the House this week.
Credit AP Photo / Carolyn Kaster

Virginia Indian tribes have been working to gain federal recognition since the 1970's, so far unsuccessfully. But this week in Congress both the House and Senate took action that is giving supporters of the effort new hope.

The Chickahominy Tribe signed a peace treaty with the governor of the Jamestown Colony, back in 1614. That created a historical accident for that tribe and a handful of other tribes in Virginia that signed peace treaties with the British crown rather than the American government. Now modern day chief Stephen Adkins says he’s happy Congress is finally taking action to right that wrong.

“We are correcting a historical injustice that we’ve endured since, you know Jamestown in 1607, and we just have not been accorded the dignity that we should be accorded as native people.”

The House of Representatives passed Republican Congressman Rob Wittman’s bill to recognize six Virginia tribes this week. It’s the third time this kind of bill has gotten out of the House. But it’s never gotten all that far in the Senate, where Democratic Senator Tim Kaine says the problem is procedural.

“There are some, primarily Republicans, who don’t like congressional recognition of tribes. They believe all tribal recognition should go through the Bureau of Indian Affairs.”

Kaine says that one of those senators, former Republican Senator Tom Coburn, is no longer in office. So he’s hoping the effort might have a new momentum this year. His version of the bill cleared a Senate Committee this week. 

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