Six Virginia tribes whose ancestors helped the first European
settlers at Jamestown cleared a major hurdle on Tuesday with the passage
of their federal recognition bill.
The unanimous approval of H.R.1294 marked the first time the Virginia tribes
have cleared any chamber of Congress. But the vote only came after
a heated debate on the floor about gaming, sovereignty and
In order to speed up consideration of the bill amid the 400th
commemoration of the Jamestown settlement,
the six tribes agreed to a prohibition on casinos.
The tribes have longstanding religious and social objections
The significant concession, however,
didn't stop Rep. Chris Shays (R-Connecticut),
a frequent critic of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, from attacking
the motives of the tribes and their Democratic supporters.
"Corruption is alive and well in this place again," Shays charged
in his one-minute floor speech at the beginning of the legislative
Shays continued his campaign during the one-hour debate on a resolution
to clear the way for a vote on the bill. The debate was
needed because Democrats brought up the measure under a "closed" rule, a move
that prevents amendments on the floor.
Shays said the bill bypasses the BIA's regulations for determining
tribal recognition, a process that he has criticized in the past.
"I have no way of knowing if this is a legitimate tribe, if each of
them are legitimate tribes," he said.
He further said Republicans "stopped [legislative recognition]
because we saw bypassing the Bureau of Indian Affairs process
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Florida), who has Creek ancestry, defended
the legislative route, citing laws in Virginia that prohibited
citizens from identifying as Indian.
State records were modified and destroyed in order to classify
Indians as either "white" or "colored."
"Over the centuries, they have survived racial hostility and
state-sanctioned attempts to stamp out their heritage and cultural identity,"
Hastings said of the tribes.
Rep. Jim Moran (D-Virginia), the primary sponsor of H.R.1294,
also spoke in favor of passage of the closed rule.
He highlighted the prohibition on gaming and said a former
opponent, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Virginia), another BIA critic,
now supports the bill.
"We are going to prohibit it in this legislation, just to reassure
people who are concerned about gambling, and understandably,
given all of the corruption that has occurred, Jack Abramoff and so on,"
But Shays charged that the tribes will find a way around
However, the federal courts have consistently upheld
federal recognition laws that contained prohibitions, or restrictions,
on tribal gaming.
"The bottom line is gambling is a license to print money, and the
financial instincts and pressures will be so great that to say they
will not have gambling is patently laughable," Shays said. "They will have it, if
they are a tribe."
Despite the opposition, the Democratic majority in the House
had enough votes to ensure passage of the closed rule.
The roll call was 228 to 186, with just five Republicans -- including
Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), the ranking member of
the House Natural Resources Committee, voting yes.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), the only Native
American in Congress, voted no. He is a member of
the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma.
Only one Democrat voted no on the closed rule. That was
Rep. Heath Shuler (D-North Carolina), whose district
includes the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, which
opposes legislative recognition for the Lumbee Tribe.
The Eastern Band belongs to the United South and Eastern
Tribes, which also opposes legislative recognition even
though several of its members were recognized under special acts of
After the roll call on the closed rule, Moran was able
to bring up the bill for final consideration.
This time, there were no opponents, although Young
questioned the need for the tribes to give up their
right to engage in gaming.
"It is unfair to view recognition through the prism of Indian gaming,"
"However, the committee made its decision to defer to some members of the
Virginia delegation on this issue, and I reluctantly supported an
amendment to add the gaming measure."
According to Moran, passage of H.R.1294 marked the first time
the House has approved a federal recognition bill in over two decades.
He said the unanimous voice vote improves the odds in the Senate,
where the bill lacks a sponsor.
The last time Congress extended recognition to a tribe was in
2000. The Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma and the Graton Rancheria
of California were placed in an "omnibus" bill in the final
days of the 106th Congress.
Before that, some Michigan tribes were restored to recognition
via legislation in the mid-1990s.
Rep. Jim Moran: House Approves Federal Recognition for VA Tribes
(May 8, 2007) |
WOLF STATEMENT ON FEDERAL RECOGNITION OF VIRGINIA INDIAN TRIBES
(May 8, 2007)
Roll Call:Providing for the
consideration of H.R. 1294, Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia
Federal Recognition Act
(May 8, 2007)
(April 25, 2007) | Full
Committee Legislative Hearing: H.R. 1294 and H.R. 65
(April 18, 2007)
E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act
Virginia Indians Tribal Alliance For Life - http://www.vitalva.org
Resources Committee - http://resourcescommittee.house.gov