U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) and U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA) requested that Bureau of Indian Affairs schedule a briefing as soon as possible with six newly federally recognized tribes in Virginia so that they can fully understand what benefits and resources will now be available to them after a successful, decades-long effort to secure federal recognition.
Congress last month passed and the president signed into law H.R. 984, the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2017, which for the first time grants federal recognition to six Virginia tribes.
“As new federally recognized tribes, the Chickahominy, the Chickahominy – Eastern Division, the Upper Mattaponi, the Rappahannock, the Monacan, and the Nansemond, have a right to understand all the benefits and resources that are available to them under this designation,” wrote the members in a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, whose Department oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The tribes had received official recognition from the Commonwealth of Virginia, but until now had not received federal recognition, which will grant the tribes legal standing and status in direct relationships with the U.S. government. It also allows the tribes to:
- Compete for educational programs and other grants only open to federally recognized tribes;
- Repatriate the remains of their ancestors in a respectful manner. Many of these remains reside in the Smithsonian, but without federal status there is no mandate to return the remains; and
- Provide affordable health care services for elder tribal members who have been unable to access care.
“Now, after many years, these individuals have the opportunity to fully reclaim their heritage and take advantage of a designation that has been withheld from them for far too long,” Sen. Warner, Sen. Kaine and Rep. Wittman wrote. “Due to the amount of time it has taken these tribes to acquire federal recognition status, we are requesting that this briefing take place as soon as possible, so these tribes can appropriately plan for the next year and beyond. We look forward to hearing from you on this important matter.”