Augusta Free Press

Tribal recognition a matter of respect, according to Virginia Tech expert

Federal recognition just granted to six Virginia Indian tribes is long overdue, according to Virginia Tech’s director of American Indian Studies, Sam Cook.

“It is important to realize that these tribes are not seeking federal recognition because they want a handout,” said Cook. “Quite the opposite.  They only seek the autonomy to take care of their own communities.”

President Trump has signed legislation to grant federal recognition after nearly two decades of effort seeking the designation.

Cook says there’s much more involved in the recognition than simply benefits such as aid for schools, housing and health care.

“Given the legal status that will afford these tribes greater autonomy, many will seek to develop community-based justice systems that will allow them to resolve disputes within the community through mediation rather than submitting to vertical justice handed down through the Western legal system,” said Cook. “They will also devote energy to true community economic development based in tribal values, such as Native food production and non-invasive cultural tourism.”

“Virginia Indians and all American Indians are real people,” said Cook. “They are contemporary people.  Colonial policies over the past 500 years have consistently sought to eradicate their cultures, or at the very least have been framed under the assumption that they would die out, which has diffused into media representations.  But rather than thinking of Indigenous peoples as cryptic echoes of the past, everyone needs to understand that their communities and cultures are, collectively models of resiliency.  They have survived because they have learned how to adapt to change.”