Nansemonds gain federal recognition

Published 10:13 pm Monday, January 29, 2018

A bill that extends federal recognition to the Nansemond Indian Tribe and five other Virginia tribes has been signed into law, according to a press release from Virginia’s senators.

The “Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2017” passed unanimously on Jan. 11 after Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine forced a surprise vote after years of impasse on similar bills.

Members of the tribes now will be able to compete for educational programs and other grants open only to federally recognized tribes, as well as provide affordable health care services for elder tribal members.


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With federal recognition, these tribes will also be able to repatriate the artifacts and remains of their ancestors that reside in the Smithsonian.

Former Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) first introduced a federal recognition bill in 2000 at the urging of Thomasina E. Jordan, the activist the bill is named after.

The 2017 bill was sponsored by Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) and passed the House in 2017. The bi-partisan effort goes back years to progress in Congress by former Virginia Sens. Jim Webb, a Democrat, and George Allen, a Republican.

The bill grants federal recognition to the Nansemond, Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Upper Mattaponi, Rappahannock and Monacan tribes, which have about 6,000 members combined.

The Nansemond tribe currently has about 300 members.

There are more than 550 federally recognized Indian tribes, and the first Virginia tribe to be recognized by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs was the Pamunkey tribe in 2016. The six tribes recognized in the bill  had to fight discriminatory laws and other historical challenges.

One of those challenges was the Racial Integrity Act the Virginia legislature passed in 1924, which criminalized interracial marriage and required that every birth in the state be recorded by race as either “White” or “Colored.”

The law was supported by Walter Plecker, a physician, eugenicist and staunch white supremacist who ran Virginia’s Bureau of Vital Statistics for more than 30 years.

The law essentially erased Indians on paper, and courthouse fires during the Civil War and other times further destroyed records that may have helped the tribes establish lineage.