Monday, June 8, 2009

Fair is Fair

I have no horse in this race. I do not descend from Native Americans. All of my ancestors are "come-heres" and probably didn't consider Indians as friends. But fair is fair.

If you don't live in Virginia, or don't have Native American ancestry, you probably don't know that the Virginia tribes--Nansemond, Eastern Chickahominy,Pamunkey, Mattaponi, Rappahannock, Upper Mattaponi, Chickahominey, and Monacan-- have yet to gain recognition from the federal government.

Say, what? That's right. The tribes of Powhatan and Pocahontas are not recognized by the federal government, which means that they get no part of federal money that some tribes have used for college tuition, housing loans and health care.

Joanne Kimberlin, reporter for the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, VA, is completing a 3-part series for the newpaper entitled “We're Still Here”1on the history of the tribes' efforts for recognition. Unfortunately, you can't see it online unless you are a subscriber. That is too bad, as it is wonderfully written and comprehensive in scope. Some of the high points from her findings are below (the editorial rant is mine):

  • Virginia tribes signed a treaty with England in 1677 which is in force today. The tribes still present the Virginia governor with a payment of rent each year in the form of a deer or other animal offering, as prescribed by the treaty. Other tribes, who made peace with the U.S. much later negotiated a better deal. It seems no good deed goes unpunished.
  • Recognition now involves completion of a process supervised by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which involves documenting the tribes' history over several hundred years. This effort has been complicated by Virginia's 1924 Racial Integrity Act, which defined “white” as “having no trace whatsoever of any blood other than Caucasian, and everyone else as “colored”. One public servant in charge of vital records at the time, Walter Plecker, made it his mission to make sure that all records conformed to the Act, forever altering the clear lineage that today's applicants need. As family historians who rely on the public record, we should be stunned.
  • The tribes' efforts at legislative support for their cause over the years is an absolute embarassment. Legislators, who are loathe to protect us from lax gun laws, dilapidated interstate highways and crumbling schools, fear that recognition brings the threat of Indian casinos. Supporting the effort when it suits them and withdrawing support at the eleventh hour seems to be their M.O. Absolutely shameful!

So, what's to be done? VITAL, the blog of the Virginia Indian Tribal Alliance for Life, reported on April 22 that the “Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2009”, H.R. 1385, passed the House Committee on Natural Resources and is positioned to be considered by the full House. The bill is sponsored by Virginia Congressman Jim Moran. Virginia's Governor Timothy M. Kaine released this statement:

“Today’s vote by the U.S. House of Representatives to recognize six of the Native American Tribes of Virginia is a major step towards reconciling an historic wrong for Virginia and the Nation. While the Virginia Tribes have received official recognition from the Commonwealth of Virginia , acknowledgement and officially recognized status from the federal government has been considerably more difficult due to their systematic mistreatment over the past century.
“We are proud of Virginia ’s recognized Indian Tribes and their contributions to our Commonwealth. The Virginia Tribes are a part of us. We go to school together, work together, and serve our Commonwealth and nation together every day. These contributions should be acknowledged, and this federal recognition for Virginia ’s native peoples is long overdue.
“Virginia’s congressional delegation, including co-sponsors Rep. Gerry Connolly, Rep. Tom Perriello, Rep. Bobby Scott, Rep. Rob Wittman—and especially bill sponsor Rep. Jim Moran—deserve credit for their work on behalf of the native peoples of Virginia .
“I will strongly support efforts to pass federal recognition legislation for the Native American Virginia Tribes in the U.S. Senate and look forward to assisting in any way I can to help ensure this legislation is enacted into law.”

I hope anyone who reads this and feels moved to add their voice to setting this business right will contact their congressman and ask them to support this bill when it comes to a vote. And if you aren't so moved, I thank you for allowing me this little rant.

(Taking a breath......)

Back to genealogy.


1.Kimberlin, Joann.”We're Still Here”.Virginian-Pilot. 7-9 June 2009:A1+.


  1. Beautifully done, Mary!

    Terry Snyder
    Desktop Genealogist Unplugged

  2. Thanks for reading, Terry....I appreciate the interest!