Now or never?

Published 9:58 pm Friday, August 27, 2010

Virginia religious leaders are saying now is the time to provide federal recognition to six Virginia tribes, including the Nansemond.

The Virginia Council of Churches last week called upon Senators Jim Webb and Mark Warner and Gov. Bob McDonnell to do whatever is needed to bring Senate Bill 1178 to the Senate floor for a vote before the end of the current session.

“We’re trying to provide encouragement to bring about justice and recognition for these six tribes,” said Jonathan Barton, general minister for the Virginia Council of Churches. “If the bill doesn’t find a way to the floor for a vote this congressional session, there is very, very deep concern that the opportunity in Congress will not appear for at least another generation or longer. We really would like to see action taken and not lost.”

The bill under consideration would extend federal recognition to the Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Mattaponi, Rappahannock, Monacan and Nansemond tribes, enabling them to receive services through the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Concerns over the cost of the extra services are part of what has prevented the bill from moving forward, Barton said. However, according to www.govtrack.us, the bill will cost less than $1 per American over the next five years.

“It’s very clear that our tribes have been here, they’ve continued to be here, and they’ve struggled to be here against incredible odds,” Barton said. “They deserve their place among the other 563 recognized tribes in the country.”

The church council’s letter was signed by 32 Virginia religious leaders from 21 denominations and three faiths. The leaders represent more than 6,000 congregations with combined membership of more than 2.5 million.

“We’ve been involved for over 10 years,” Barton said. “We have been financially supportive and testified before hearings in both the House and Congress.”

Barton said the council encouraged the elected leaders to take action now because time is running out before the end of the current congressional session.

“We are really concerned that the window of opportunity is only a couple of weeks before we’re into the midterm elections,” Barton said.

The letter sent to the elected leaders called this “a unique time provided by the Divine.”

“Let us seize the moment,” the letter says. “For the first time, the entire Virginia Congressional Delegation supports this bill, as do all the living governors of Virginia.”

For more information on the council, visit www.vacouncilofchurches.org.