View Full Version : Powhatan tribes battle for recognition

vance hawkins
08-17-2003, 03:13 PM
someone sent this to me or I cae by it somehow & I thought yall might be interested.
Msg said it was too long so I'll cut & paste it & place part of it in a second msg

Powhatan tribes battle for recognition
By WARREN FISKE, The Virginian-Pilot
August 11, 2003
Last updated: 1:15 PM

KING WILLIAM -- Dawn came on a recent Saturday with a few Upper
Mattaponi Indians astir, setting up a yard sale on a gravel parking
lot off state Route 30.

Second-hand jeans, $2. Matching lamps, $15. Dog-eared paperbacks for
the coins in your pocket. All to defray their costs for lobbying in

Four centuries ago, the Upper Mattaponi were members of the mighty
Nation of Powhatan, the legendary confederation of Eastern Virginia
tribes that met the first permanent English settlers in America. The
confederation's acts of welcome and war became the lore of history
and Hollywood.

Today, most of Powhatan's remaining Virginia tribes are in an
exasperating fight to win federal recognition from Congress and the
accompanying trove of grants for education, housing and health care.
They have encountered political opposition and a maze of regulations
that have made it all but impossible to legally claim their

The federal government recognizes 562 tribes from 32 states, but none
from Virginia.

At the same time Washington is denying status to Virginia tribes, it
is dedicating millions of dollars to celebrate their heritage.
Congress is underwriting a significant share of Jamestown 2007, an
international celebration of the 400th anniversary of the landing of
English settlers in the New World.

The irony is not lost on several Virginia Indian chiefs, whose tribes
are being asked to participate.

``It should be an embarrassment if we're celebrating the anniversary
of this country, and the people who met the first Englishmen were not
granted recognition,'' said Stephen Adkins, chief of the

``What's so befuddling to me is how you can celebrate our history and
not recognize our existence,'' said Kenneth Adams, chief of the Upper

The answers lie in a 326-year-old treaty Virginia tribes signed with
King Charles II, the state's legacy of racism and current concerns
that federal recognition could open the Old Dominion to Indian-run

The tribes, with roughly 3,000 members in the commonwealth, have won
support from Virginia's two U.S. senators and Gov. Mark R. Warner.
Despite their efforts, bills that would grant Virginia tribes federal
recognition remain buried in congressional subcommittees.

So six of Virginia's eight tribes decided two years ago to use the
weapons of Washington and hired a lobbyist. The bills last year came
to $108,000, paid entirely from the proceeds of public powwows, craft
shows, seafood bakes and sports tournaments. The take from the Upper
Mattaponi's recent yard sale was about $200.

``We don't have any money. Virginia tribes never had anything,'' said
Adams, an airplane maintenance instructor who spent 24 years in the
Air Force, including a tour of Vietnam. ``But we're not going to give
this fight up. We're entitled to the same respect the United States
has shown for other tribes.'' Never before have Virginia tribes
fought with the U.S. government. Perhaps if they had, their current
problem wouldn't exist.

In 1677, the Powhatan nation signed a treaty with England that made
it subject to British rule. The Indians pledged to obey the king's
laws and to pay taxes in return for hunting and fishing rights on
their former lands. The natives also agreed to return all English
prisoners, while the settlers promised not to enslave Indians.

The tribes returned to their ever-diminishing lands and lived
peacefully. They were converted largely to Christianity by Baptist
and Methodist missionaries.

Nothing changed for the tribes a century later when the United States
was born. Virginia Indians remained peaceful. There was no need for
the new government to seek its own treaty.

But that wasn't the case with many tribes outside Virginia that
objected to the new nation's rapid expansion. They fought bloody wars
to preserve their lands. Many of the defeated tribes were granted
federal recognition upon signing treaties and relocating to
government-assigned reservations.

``In my opinion, it is a quirk of history that we never established a
relationship with the U.S. government,'' Adams said.

Virginia was not friendly to its tribes. It long denied education and
employment opportunities to Indians. Later, the Virginia General
Assembly tried bureaucratically to eliminate Indians by passing the
Racial Integrity Act of 1924.

The law mandated that only two races be recorded on state birth
records: white and Negro. It was zealously enforced by Walter A.
Plecker, Virginia's first registrar of the Bureau of Vital
Statistics. Plecker, an outspoken proponent of eugenics,
systematically changed the race recorded on many birth, death and
marriage certificates from ``Indian'' to ``Negro'' until his
retirement in 1946. The law stood until 1967, when it was struck down
by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Virginia tried to make amends in the 1980s by establishing a state
Bureau of Indian Affairs and conferring state recognition on its
eight tribes. In 1997, then-Gov. George Allen instructed state
agencies to correct all distorted Indian records that were brought to
their attention.

The action came too late to repair the damage.

``Virginia Indians were the victims of statistical genocide,'' said
William P. Miles, chief of the Pamunkey.

The purge of racial identity records had a devastating impact on the
tribes in the late 1990s, when they began seeking federal
recognition. The tribes took the routine route by applying to the
federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. The agency requires meticulous
documentation of family trees to prove the applicants descend from
``historical Indian tribes.''

In the Old Dominion, the altered records make that virtually

So Virginia's tribes deployed a new strategy. While two -- the
Pamunkey and Mattaponi -- decided to continue seeking federal
recognition through the traditional route, six tribes concluded that
their best hope was to bypass the Bureau of Indians Affairs and apply
directly to Congress.

That created a new problem.

In 1988, Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act allowing
federally recognized tribes to operate casinos on their lands.
Lawmakers said gaming centers would create economic opportunities for
long-impoverished tribes and wean them from government subsidies.
Since then, about 300 gaming parlors have opened on Indian land in 28

Virginia lawmakers have opposed expanding gambling in Virginia beyond
the lottery, horse racing and charitable bingo.

State tribal leaders say they have no intention of opening casinos.
They say they are morally opposed to gambling -- so much that they
refuse to raise money through bingo, although they have that right.

Even if the tribes wanted to go into the casino business, they still
would need permission from Virginia's legislature. The federal act
requires all tribes recognized after 1988 to abide by the gambling
laws of their states.

vance hawkins
08-17-2003, 03:15 PM
That stipulation satisfies Virginia's governor, its two U.S.
senators, the Virginia Council of Churches and the General Assembly,
the latter of which overwhelmingly passed a resolution urging
Congress to recognize the tribes.

``The gambling issue has been sufficiently addressed,'' Allen said
during a Senate hearing last year. ``The point is that Virginia does
not allow gambling, and I cannot imagine the state changing those

But Republican Congressman Frank R. Wolf of Northern Virginia, the
state's senior House member, wants more assurance. Wolf is demanding
that the Indians sign away all future rights to run casinos -- even
if the state one day legalizes them.

Wolf, an ardent foe of gambling, is blocking the legislation to
federally recognize the tribes until he gets an agreement. He says
several federally recognized tribes in other states initially opposed
gambling but, lured by riches, later opened casinos.

``I believe the Virginia tribes when they say don't want gambling,''
Wolf said. ``The problem is that people can come along later on and
change their minds. So what's wrong with putting a permanent
prohibition in writing?''

Indian leaders refuse to accept his terms.

``There's no need for it,'' said Adkins, the Chickahominy chief. ``As
long as the state says there won't be gambling, there won't be
gambling. But we don't want to preclude the options of future
generations if the state changes its mind.''

Adkins said agreeing to Wolf's conditions could set a ``bad
precedent'' for tribes elsewhere.

``Once you start giving away rights,'' he said, ``where does it

Barry W. Bass, chief of the Nansemond, said Wolf's demand is

``He's stereotyping the Indian folk as gamblers when all we are is
hard-working folks looking for a little bit of dignity,'' Bass said.

The lone Indian in the U.S. Senate, Republican Ben Nighthorse
Campbell of Colorado, supports the tribes. Campbell, who heads a
subcommittee that oversees Indian affairs, has vowed to scuttle any
bill that contains Wolf's stipulation.

The Bush administration has added to the tribes' woes by opposing the
recognition bills before Congress. Its complaints: The tribes have
been unable to provide documentation required by the Bureau of Indian
Affairs. Going through Congress allows them ``to avoid the scrutiny
to which other groups have been subjected.''

The objections caused Allen, author of the Senate bill for
recognition, to boil over.

``Do you recognize how devastating the Racial Integrity Act of 1924
was to the identity of individuals?'' he demanded of Michael Smith,
director of tribal affairs for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, at a
hearing last year. ``Do you recognize how difficult it was to
maintain a culture, a heritage, family bloodlines?''

Smith said the government must demand meticulous proof because
recognition entitles tribes to federal funds.

``I don't think we want to get in an argument over whether there are
historical tribes in Virginia. We know there are,'' Smith told Allen.
``We just want to ensure, though, that the Indian people are the
tribes they say they are.''

The gridlock has exasperated Congressman James P. Moran, an
Alexandria Democrat who is sponsoring the House bill. ``It's shameful
that I can't get this through,'' he said. ``I don't know what more I
can do.''

Also opposing the legislation is the Virginia Petroleum Marketers and
Convenience Grocery Association, an organization representing 650
corporations running gas stations and convenience stores in the
commonwealth. Federally recognized Indians are allowed to sell goods
free of state taxes on tribal lands. That, says the group, could give
Virginia's tribes a competitive advantage should they become

``Under this bill, they could go into the gas business and sell it 36
cents per gallon under the cost of other gas stations,'' said Michael
J. O'Connor, a lobbyist for the association. ``They could acquire
every East Coast Gasoline station in Virginia and declare it tribal
land. . . . That's not tribal rights. It's state-supported tax

Adams, tending to the recent Saturday yard sale, chuckled initially
when told of O'Connor's remarks. But then the Upper Mattaponi chief's
words came out icy.

``Where does he get the idea that we're going to go into business?''
Adams said. ``We're broke. We never had anything. If we had money, do
you think we'd be sitting in the heat all day holding a yard sale to
raise, maybe, a couple hundred dollars?''

Adams crossed Route 30 to show a visitor the tribal land -- a 32-acre
parcel, barren save for a U.S. flag, a bathroom and two crude
pavilions without walls. The Upper Mattaponi purchased the land in
the 1980s and only recently gained the deed.

``It took 15 years to own the land, $439 a month,'' Adams said.

Nearby is the tribal graveyard, humble but neat. Adams walked by the
tombstone of an uncle, who he said was never quite right after
serving in World War II.

Buried there also are Adams' grandfather and father, who he said
never learned to read.

``These are the people I'm trying to affirm,'' Adams said. ``That's
why I'll never give up.''

Reach Warren Fiske at warren.fiske@pilotonline.com or (804) 697-1565.