Senate committee approves two federal recognition measures

Chief Little Shell was a leader of the Little Shell Tribe in the late 1800s. Photo from Turtle Mountain Chippewa Heritage Center

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee endorsed two federal recognition bills at a business meeting on Wednesday despite a lack of support from the panel's Republican leader.

The committee approved S.35 to extend recognition to the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Montana, and S.465, a bill affecting six Virginia tribes. But Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) said he doesn't support either measure.

"I've stated my position on legislative recognition before," Barrasso, the committee's chairman, said yesterday. "There is an exacting administrative process that is the proper course of action for all groups seeking recognition."

The Little Shell Tribe is indeed following the administrative process at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. But it's dragged out for more than a decade with conflicting rulings from the agency that have yet to be resolved.

"The Little Shell Tribe has waited long enough to be recognized. It's time the feds acknowledge what the tribes of Montana, the state of Montana, and most importantly, what the Little Shell members themselves know to be true," Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana), the vice chair of the committee, said in a press release.

"For far too long, the Little Shell Tribe has jumped through bureaucratic hoops and compiled stacks of paperwork in their efforts to secure federal recognition. It's long past time that this injustice is reconciled," added freshman Sen. Steve Daines (R-Montana).

Historic photo of Mattaponi students at the original Sharon Indian School in Virginia. Photo from Upper Mattaponi Tribe

The six Virginia tribes have not petitioned the BIA for recognition. Although they signed some of the first treaties and have maintained a long relationship with outside governments, their situation is complicated by a racist state law that required their Indian identities to be expunged from official records.

“With committee approval of this legislation to grant federal recognition to six Virginia tribes, we are one step closer to rectifying this grave injustice,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) said in a press release.

“This recognition is well-earned and long overdue,” added Sen. Mark Warner (D-Virginia).

The six tribes covered by the bill are the Chickahominy Tribe, the Chickahominy Indian Tribe - Eastern Division, the Upper Mattaponi Tribe, the Rappahannock Tribe, the Monacan Nation and the Nansemond Tribe.

Both measures now advance to the Senate. Chances for passage appear to be slim -- Congress has not enacted a stand-alone federal recognition bill since the mid-1990s.

Two tribes were able to gain legislative recognition in 2000 as part of an omnibus Indian package that passed in the final days of the 106th Congress and was signed in the final days of the Clinton presidency.

Get the Story:
Little Shell recognition bill advances (The Great Falls Tribune 3/19)
Tribes gain ground on U.S. recognition (The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star 3/19)

Committee Notice:
Business Meeting to consider S. 35, S. 438, S. 465 and the NIGC Chairman Nomination (March 18, 2015)

Related Stories
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs schedules business meeting (3/12)
Lawmakers introduce bill to extend recognition to Virginia tribes (02/11)
Editorial: Recognition overdue for Little Shell Chippewa Tribe (01/13)
Bill introduced to extend recognition to Little Shell Chippewa Tribe (01/07)
Tim Kaine: Correct historical wrong and recognize Virginia tribes (12/08)

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