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Bill to recognize Nansemonds passes committee

Published 9:14pm Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A bill that would extend federal recognition to the Nansemond Indian Tribe and five others in Virginia passed the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

The tribes, which also include the Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Upper Mattaponi, Rappahannock and Monacan, are officially recognized by the state but not by the federal government.

“I just hope we can finally get there,” Nansemond Indian Tribal Association Chief Barry Bass said on Thursday. “It’s been a long, hard road.”

The bill has passed the Senate Indian Affairs Committee before, but a vote in the full Senate has been blocked by senators who believe the tribes should have to go through the Bureau of Indian Affairs as other tribes have done.

But recognition through the bureau’s administrative process requires documentation that current tribal members have a continuous line of descent from the historical tribes. That has been difficult, if not impossible, for Virginia Indians to prove, in part because of Walter Plecker, who was the registrar of Virginia’s Bureau of Vital Statistics from 1912 to 1946. He replaced “Indian” with “black” for the race on many birth and death certificates that passed through his office, ensuring that no official documentation exists for many tribal members to prove their relationship to ancestors.

“Federal recognition of the Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Monacan, Nansemond, Rappahannock and Upper Mattaponi tribes of Virginia is long overdue,” Sen. Mark Warner said in a press release. “Members of our Virginia Indian tribes are both part of the history of the Commonwealth and valued members of our present and should be recognized as such.”

“Committee passage of this legislation is a critical step toward granting these six Virginia tribes the recognition they deserve,” Sen. Tim Kaine said in the press release. “These tribes are an integral part of Virginia’s history and identity, and it is both troubling and tragic that they have never been recognized by the United States, even when more than 500 other Indian tribes have been granted recognition.”

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