American Indian leaders in Virginia are threatening to
turn their participation in Jamestown’s 400th anniversary celebration into a
protest if they don’t gain federal recognition by 2007.
The main sticking point is casino gambling — something the tribes insist
they don’t even want.
“We’re not asking for something that is not ours,” says Stephen Adkins,
chief of the Chickahominy tribe. “We’re trying to reclaim that sovereignty that
we believe God gave us. And why should man be allowed to take that away from
The latest push for recognition coincides with the Christmas release of the
movie “The New World,” a retelling of the story of Jamestown leader Capt.
John Smith and Pocahontas, daughter of the great chief Powhatan.
Between 3,000 and 5,000 people belong to the eight state-recognized tribes
that have applied for federal recognition through the Interior Department’s
Bureau of Indian Affairs.
That tortuous 20-plus-year process requires tribes to submit voluminous
historical and genealogical evidence to back claims of legitimacy.
Arguing that those records have been obscured by systematic discrimination
in Virginia, the Chickahominy, Upper Mattaponi, Eastern Chickahominy, Monacan,
Nansemond and Rappahannock are seeking an expedited route to recognition via
an act of Congress.
The Mattaponi and Pamunkey tribes, the only Virginia Indians with their own
reservations, are not part of the congressional efforts.
Virginia’s two U.S. senators have pushed recognition bills since 2000.
The state’s General Assembly has recognized the tribes on the state level
since the 1980s and overwhelmingly passed a resolution backing federal
The federal effort has stalled, largely because of the efforts of U.S. Rep.
Frank R. Wolf, a Republican whose district includes Frederick and Loudoun
counties and part of Fairfax County and a member of the House Appropriations
Mr. Wolf argues that the tribes could have achieved recognition three years
ago had they been willing to agree to local boards of supervisors going to
The tribes blame their lack of recognition on Virginia’s 1924 Racial
Integrity Act, which made it illegal for whites and nonwhites to marry.
After pushing for passage of that act, Walter Plecker, registrar of the
state’s Bureau of Vital Statistics, campaigned to prevent the “mongrelization” of
the white “master race” by what he called “pseudo-Indians.”
Plecker ordered that the Indians be classified as “colored” on birth and
marriage certificates and threatened doctors and midwives with jail for
The result, say the tribes, was a “paper genocide.”
Kenneth Branham, 52, chief of the Monacan tribe of the western Virginia
mountains, said his parents were wed in Maryland because they couldn’t be married
as Indians at home.
He was one of the first Monacan to graduate from public schools in rural
Amherst County because Indians weren’t allowed to attend schools with whites
A few miles outside Richmond, Kenneth Adams, 58, sits in the two-room,
red-brick Indian school he attended until his senior year of high school.
The chief of the Upper Mattaponi tribe has said that federal recognition
means much more to him than slot machines, roulette wheels or blackjack tables.
Mr. Adams said he seeks the same benefits enjoyed by the 562 tribes
acknowledged by the Department of the Interior.
They include college scholarship money for the tribe’s young students,
housing assistance for its elderly and the right to possess and use eagle feathers
in the tribe’s sacred ceremonies.
Copyright © 2005 News World Communications, Inc.