President should sign bill

Published 8:53 pm Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A signature from President Donald Trump is all it will take to begin to right some of the wrongs done to American Indian tribes who lived in what’s now called Virginia prior to the arrival of European interlopers.

After years of impasse in the U.S. Senate, a bill is finally on the president’s desk that would extend federal recognition to six Virginia tribes, including the Nansemond Indian Tribal Association, whose ancestors lived, built a society, raised children, grew crops, fished and played what is now called Suffolk.

Most Indian tribes in America — more than 500 of them — have acquired federal recognition through an administrative process through the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. But that process is not available to the Virginia tribes, because they are unable to prove their lineage through official documents thanks to the “paper genocide” in the early 20th century. A shameful law called the Racial Integrity Act required every birth to be recorded by race as “White” or “Colored.” In the eyes of the law and on official documents, Indians no longer existed.

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In addition, the Virginia tribes committed the mistake of making peace with European settlers too early; their peace was with England, before the United States was established. Therefore, they never had a formal treaty with the United States.

That peace was difficult to come by. The Nansemond Indian Tribe was subjected to attacks and thefts by settlers on their own land. Survivors eventually were driven to move away from the Chuckatuck area they once called home.

The state of Virginia has recognized the Nansemonds and the other tribes — Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Upper Mattaponi, Rappahannock and Monacan — affected by this bill. The city of Suffolk also has returned to the Nansemond tribal association dozens of acres of its native land, another step in the right direction.

But a big step toward righting this wrong has remained outstanding, despite the efforts of multiple federal legislators from both parties who have introduced multiple iterations of this bill since 2000. Finally, a version of the bill introduced by Republican Rep. Robert Wittman has passed the House of Representatives and cleared the Senate, its sticking point heretofore, on the efforts of Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, who forced a vote last week.

The president should sign this bipartisan, common-sense bill without further delay. Since nothing in Washington happens without some benefit to the doers, someone should remind the president that, after the events of the last week, he could use some positive press on race relations.