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Six Virginia Tribes Seek Federal Recognition

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Lawmakers are pushing for federal recognition for the six Virginia tribes, which would bring with it benefits enjoyed by other Native American tribes.
WAMU/Matt Laslo
Lawmakers are pushing for federal recognition for the six Virginia tribes, which would bring with it benefits enjoyed by other Native American tribes.

A bipartisan group of Virginia lawmakers are fighting to win federal recognition of six tribes in the commonwealth. 

The tribes have treaties dating back to the 1600s. But there's a catch: the agreements are with the King of England. Even now, the UK recognizes and honors these American tribes, while the U.S. government doesn't. That's partly because in 1924, a law was passed that declared Virginia contained no Native Americans and wiped the commonwealth's record books of their history. Northern Virginia Democrat Jim Moran says that period is blot on the state's record. 

"The history of this denial is a true stain on Virginia's history," he says. 

The six tribes are fighting for federal recognition as well as educational and health care benefits enjoyed by other tribes. It also would allow them to collect their ancestors' remains kept in the Smithsonian. Steve Adkins of the Chickahominy Tribe says it's time their heritage is honored. 

"We weren't Indians by choice, we were Indians by birth," he says.

The House has passed legislation recognizing Virginia's tribes twice. So has a Senate committee, but the full upper chamber has never recognized the tribes. Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner says he's optimistic the delegation can apply the needed pressure. 

"Each year we get a little bit further down the path. This needs to be the year we get it done," says Warner.

While optimistic, supporters say the legislation won't likely come up until near the end of this session, which means after about a 400-year wait, these tribes continue to wait. 

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