Editorial: Virginia's tribes need federal recognition from Congress

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

Newspaper calls on the Senate to pass S.465, a bill to extend federal recognition to six tribes in Virginia:
It’s been a long, hard slog for the Monacan Indian Nation and the Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Upper Mattaponi, Rappahannock and Nansemond tribes during the past decades in their quest to gain federal recognition. One hurdle after another has popped up in their paths going back decades.

In the 1920s and 1930s, state officials were determined to erase any ethnic or racial history of the tribes. Dr. Walter Plecker, head of the Bureau of Vital Statistics for more than 30 years, successfully lobbied the General Assembly for legislation that would classify all people as either “white” or “colored” on their birth records, effectively wiping out the tribes’ ethnic identity.

To make matters even worse, many Virginia courthouses, repositories of key historical documents dating to the colony’s first days, were destroyed during the Civil War. Then, the tribes’ own history with Virginia settlers created problems for their recognition efforts. Because their ancestors made peace with English colonists early in the 17th century, there were no official treaties with the government of the United States, as there are with tribes in western America.

And without documents and official records, the tribes were at a distinct disadvantage in the recognition process of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, leaving congressional recognition as the only viable alternative.

Get the Story:
Editorial: Virginia's Tribes Try Once Again (The Lynchburg News-Advance 4/17)

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