When a replica of the Godspeed — one of the three ships that carried the founders of Jamestown — landed in Alexandria last year to inaugurate the beginning of a year of 400th anniversary celebrations, U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8) was waiting to greet its inhabitants. Standing with Moran in Founders Park were representatives of the six tribes that have been seeking federal recognition for years.
"We can’t change the past, but we can affect the future," Moran said during a press conference following the Godspeed’s arrival. "Federal recognition for these tribes is long overdue."
Now — almost a year later — Moran’s legislation has passed the House of Representatives. Last week, the House approved H.R. 1294 on a voice vote. Known as the Thomasina Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Recognition Act of 2007, the bill extends federal recognition to the Chickahominy Indian Tribe, the Chickahominy Indian Tribe-Eastern Division, the Upper Mattaponi Tribe, the Rappahannock Tribe, the Monacan Indian Nation and the Nansemond Indian Tribe. The bill, which Moran first introduced in 1999, now heads toward the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.
"We’re hopeful that the Jamestown celebration will spur the Senate to act quickly," said Austin Durrer, Moran’s spokesman. "At this point, we’re waiting for a senator to sponsor it."
DESPITE THE TRIBES’ longstanding opposition to gaming, the bill was amended in the House Natural Resources Committee to prohibit any federal circumstance under which the tribes might one day pursue gaming. Moran said he agreed to the compromise to placate those concerned that this legislation might still open the door to gambling interests. Virginia law currently allows Bingo for charitable purposes, although no tribe has pursued this option.
"I applaud my colleague and dear friend, U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, who has been relentless in his quest to achieve federal recognition for Virginia’s First Americans," said U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, in a written statement following last week’s House vote. "After 400 years of injustice and discrimination, these tribes have waited long enough — and it is only fitting that the Congress should seize on this opportunity to exercise our Constitutional authority and set right a very horrible wrong."
Currently, 562 tribes in the United States have received federal recognition. Unlike most tribes who were federally recognized after signing treaties with the United States government, the Virginia tribes’ treaties were with the British monarchy. All six tribes have received official recognition from the Commonwealth of Virginia, but the federal government has yet to follow suit.
"It is fitting that while the eyes of the world focus on Jamestown, the real first inhabitants of that land have cleared a major hurdle in their bid to be recognized," said Moran.