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Bush cites 'terrible cost' of Jamestown on Virginia tribes

Participating in the 400th commemoration of the Jamestown settlement, President Bush on Sunday lamented the negative effects that European colonization had on the tribes in Virginia.

Bush tied the development of democracy and the rise of the United States to the first settlers. But he said the benefits weren't shared by everyone, particularly the first Americans.

"The expansion of Jamestown came at a terrible cost to the native tribes of the region, who lost their lands and their way of life," Bush said in Williamsburg.

The president didn't go into details but the struggles of Virginia's Indians entered the national debate last week when the House approved a bill to recognize six tribes in the state. Although the tribes have the oldest treaty and reservations in existence, they haven't received any of the benefits or rights typically associated with that status.

The lack of official recognition has not gone unnoticed as the nation prepared for the Jamestown 2007 commemoration. The tribes have been active planners and participants but their supporters say they are still paying the price for European settlement.

"Here we are, the Queen is at the White House, and we are having all this pomp and circumstance, and the very Indians that enabled it to happen have not been recognized by our government and, in fact, have been treated to some of the worst injustices across this land," Rep. Jim Moran (D-Virginia) said on the House floor last Monday.

The House unanimously approved the recognition bill but not without some misgivings among certain members of Congress. Critics have questioned the need to go around the Bureau of Indian Affairs process for determining which tribes qualify for federal status.

The Virginia tribes could go through the BIA but they face unique obstacles when they are asked to document their continuous existence. Under state laws in effect less than 50 years ago, it was illegal for citizens to identify as Indian on state records.

Under the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, citizens could only fall into two categories: "colored" or white. Government records were modified and outright destroyed in order to eliminate any references to Indian heritage.

The law "stayed in effect until 1967 and caused my parents to have to travel to Washington, D.C., on February 20, 1935, in order to be married as Indians," said Chief Stephen Adkins of the Chickahominy Tribe at a hearing in April.

Despite the momentum in the House, however, action on the bill appears to be stalled for the time being. Sen. John Warner (R-Virginia) and Sen. Jim Webb (D-Virginia) have told state newspapers that they aren't going to rush to action despite the attempt to link recognition to the Jamestown 2007 events.

Besides the policy and procedural issue -- Congress hasn't recognized a tribe through legislation since 2000 -- there are concerns about gaming. The tribes agreed to a prohibition on any forms of gaming, a concession that led at least one former critic, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Virginia), to support the bill.

"This legislation, I believe, does shut the door on the opportunity for these tribes to acquire land and eventually establish tribal casinos," Wolf said in a statement last Monday.

Bush, in his remarks on Sunday, didn't mention the federal recognition effort but said Native Americans and African-Americans, whose ancestors arrived in Virginia as slaves, shouldn't be ignored. "Their story is a part of the story of Jamestown," he said.

"It reminds us that the work of American democracy is to constantly renew and to extend the blessings of liberty," he said.

White House Transcript:
President Bush Celebrates at America's 400th Anniversary in Jamestown (May 13, 2007

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)

Committee Hearings:
Full Committee Markup (April 25, 2007) | Full Committee Legislative Hearing: H.R. 1294 and H.R. 65 (April 18, 2007)

Recognition Bill:
Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act (H.R.1294)

Relevant Links:
Virginia Indians Tribal Alliance For Life -
House Resources Committee -