Measure giving federal recogntion to Va. tribes moves forward 5-8-07

By DIONNE WALKER
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - House Democrats Tuesday pushed through a measure
supporting federal recognition for six Virginia Indian tribes,
bringing them closer to the full government acknowledgment tribal
leaders have sought for nearly a decade.

It marked the first time in a generation that the House has voted on
an Indian sovereignty bill, offering a national nod of acknowledgment
to the tribes that welcomed settlers to Virginia's shores 400 years
ago this month.

The measure granting federal recognition to the Eastern Chickahominy,
Chickahominy, Upper Mattaponi, Rappahannock, Monacan and Nansemond
tribes now goes to the Senate - the farthest it's gotten since being
introduced in 1999.

“It's definitely progress,” said Wayne Adkins, whose Virginia
Indian Tribal Alliance for Life has pushed for recognition since the
'90s. “We'll probably celebrate for a little while and then get busy
on the Senate side.”

Tribal leaders had hoped the measure could clear Congress and become
law in time for this weekend's celebration of the 400th anniversary
of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America.

“These six Indian tribes are the reasons why those settlers were
able to survive,” Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., said Tuesday. “They
sheltered them.”

Indian leaders say recognition would enable the tribes, already
acknowledged by the state, to tap into federal aid.

But critics have long insisted the sovereign status would be used to
justify building Indian-run casinos in Virginia.

Tuesday, Republican lawmakers continued to debate whether tribes
would stick to promises to forgo gaming rights.

“To say that they will not have gambling is patently laughable,”
said Rep. Christopher Shays, a Republican from Connecticut, home to
two of the nation's largest Indian casinos.

Republicans also criticized a measure they said would enable Virginia
tribes to bypass the Bureau of Indian Affairs' process for federal
recognition, a lengthy procedure involving close scrutiny of records
going back for decades.

It can take years to complete. Congressional recognition, however,
lets tribes leapfrog to the front of the line - unfair to tribes
waiting years for recognition, critics argue.

Moreover, Shay said, “The fact that these six tribes can't document
that they have a historic, economic and social continuity is
significant.”

But Moran pointed to the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, a Virginia
measure that made it illegal to acknowledge Indian heritage on paper
and triggered the destruction of many vital records.

“It would be virtually impossible for the Virginia Indian tribes to
provide the documentation that the Bureau of Indian Affairs
requires,” Moran told House members as Indian leaders looked on.
“This is a unique situation.”

H.R. 1294 passed unanimously on a voice vote.

A date for a vote in the Senate hasn't been set.

“Hopefully we can do it in time for the actual date the English
settlers landed at Jamestown” (May 14), Moran said. “It's 400 years
overdue.”
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