By Steven E. White
On Monday, January 29, President Trump signed the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2017, otherwise named H.R. 984. The new law grants federal recognition of six of the Native-American tribes of Virginia, allowing them to access federal funds for housing, health care, and education. The bill has finally been signed, after years and years of lobbying from Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, of Virginia, who have referred to the lack of federal recognition, an ‘injustice’.
The six tribes under recognition of the bill are: Monacan, Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Upper Mattaponi, Rappahannock, and the Nansemond tribes. The 4,400 people from these tribes have sought for nearly two decades to receive federal recognition. In addition to allowing federal funding and recognition, the bill will allow them to repatriate the remains of their ancestors, some of which lie at the Smithsonian. “It’s a very happy day for all Virginia Indians, and I think it’s a very happy day for the Commonwealth,” said Chief Stephen Adkins, who proudly represents the culture and heritage of the Chickahominy. “We went through the terrible time when the Commonwealth turned its back on us and allowed officials to take the pen and commit paper genocide. We wanted that day of reckoning,” he said, referring to January 29, when the bill was signed.
Assistant Chief of the Chickahominy, Wayne Adkins, stated, “It helps ensure the future of our tribes. it gives us more resource to do archives, to collect history, to teach the children and even some of the adults.” Hitherto, the tribes had only been able to teach their kids, up to eighth grade, then they would have to continue their education in Oklahoma, or elsewhere, if they wished to pursue further. Akins’ ancestors have long looked forward to this day, when injustice would be made right, as he explained, “The day the bill passed, people said [the ancestors] were probably in heaven dancing, because we achieved a goal.”
He continues, explaining his desires for his children, “Our responsibility is to not let our culture die. I don’t want my children, nieces and nephews, to only be an Indian; I want them to be a citizen of the United States also, so they’ve got two roles.” Doris Ann Austin, an Eastern Chickahominy Counsel Member, states, in regards to their bright future, “This is so much for them. I hope we get grants for education and healthcare,” said Austin.
The bill passed the house in May, then on the Thursday of January 11, the Senate sent the bill to Trump’s desk, when senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine forced a surprise vote. When Trump signed the bill, they spoke in a joint statement, “Our country is finally honoring [the tribes] with the recognition they deserve. We are inspired by the tribes’ leaders who never gave up.” They conclude, together, “Today closes a chapter on a decades-long pursuit of justice for Virginia’s tribes. Virginia’s tribes have loved and served this nation, and today our country is finally honoring them with the recognition they deserve.”