Opinion: Virginia tribes deserve recognition

"Virginia's American Indian tribes have been officially embraced by the state since the 1980s, but the tribes' sovereignty bill has been stalled in Congress since 2001, denying their existence and rights, even as the state, the nation and Britain's queen were celebrating their history at the 400th anniversary of Jamestown.

Federal recognition would bring federal grants for college scholarships, job training, housing, health care and other badly needed programs. Adkins adds that the tribes are not interested in opening casinos, which have been profitable but problematic in other states where tribes have received sovereignty.

Opponents ignore the rights and needs of the tribes and focus solely on the fear of Indian-run casinos, exempting tribes from taxes, preventing police from coming onto tribal grounds and inviting lawsuits to reclaim Indian land and water rights. The Pamunkey, Chickahominy, Rappahannock, Monacan, Weapemeoc and Mattaponi have danced before our nation's chiefs for decades, only to be turned away to nurse their blisters.

Undaunted, the Chickahominy came to Berkeley because plantation owner Malcolm "Jamie" Jamieson has always kept the lands open to the tribe for any ceremonial use they require. One good steward of the land, tapping his foot to their music, has kept friendship and hope alive.

So the Chickahominy gathered to honor the site of the nation's true First Thanksgiving at Berkeley, where English colonists held their first day of thanks in 1619, nearly two years before the Pilgrims did at Plymouth, Mass. While Virginians recognize Berkeley as the site of the first Thanksgiving, nationally this history is perceived as a myth. Once a year, the Chickahominy and Berkeley's Jamieson champion each other's causes, one underdog standing back-to-back with another.

If ever there were a sight to be grateful for having witnessed, it was this day of many dances. Few media representatives attended, yet the Chickahominy embodied the graciousness, spirit and strength of character so often denied them in the history books and halls of justice as if they were dancing for our commander in chief himself.

The tribes of Virginia have paid the piper more than his due, and they have danced. It's time for Congress to stop being the wallflower and step up to recognize Virginia's tribes."

Get the Story:
Lisa Suhay: For Virginia's Tribes . . . A Dance and Their Due (The Washington Post 11/18)

Relevant Documents:
Letter to SCIA

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

Relevant Links:
Virginia Indians Tribal Alliance For Life - http://www.vitalva.org

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