Powhatan tribes battle for recognition

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    vance hawkins

    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

    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.


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