Where Are the Natives in Virginia Today?
As a result of the demographic changes since the Europeans arrived (and the Racial Integrity Law of 1924), the Totero, Gingaskin, and many other tribal groups have disappeared as organized communities - but Native American tribes and individual Native Americans are still part of Virginia today. As one member of the Chickahominy tribe mentioned to a member of a tribe now in Oklahoma during a Native American event, "We never left."1
There are 11 tribal groups recognized today by the state of Virginia:
Treaties between Virginia and today's Pamunkey/Mattaponi tribes pre-date the establishment of the Federal government by a century. Virginia tribes began a concerted effort for state recognition after a 1900 law required separate railroad coaches for white vs. colored passengers, local officials during World War One sought to draft tribal members as blacks, and anthropologists James Mooney and Frank Speck initiated professional anthropological studies that spurred tribal organization.2
Since its creation in 1788, the Federal government has signed treaties with various tribes to define the boundaries of land claims and reservations. Congress has passed legislation to control land sales by Indians within the territory of the United States - but in Virginia, tribal relations with the "government" have involved the state rather than national government.
A push for formal Federal recognition of individual tribes began in the mid-1990's, and received heightened attention during the 400th commemoration of the settlement of Jamestown in 2007. Still, by 2012 no Virginia tribe had been recognized by the Federal government. As one reporter has noted about the Native Americans in Virginia:3
- They were here before Virginia was called Virginia, but the federal government still doesn’t recognize them.
The lack of Federal recognition limits the ability of Virginia tribes to rely upon Federal protections for cultural heritage, or obtain $10-12 million/year from certain social programs for education, housing and health care.4 In particular:5
- Federal recognition would enable these nations to strengthen their communities with increased federal protections for religious freedom (1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act), child welfare (1978 Indian Child Welfare Act), and return of ancestral remains (1990 Native American Graves and Repatriation Act)
and make them eligible for federal assistance in the areas of education and health care (1975 Self-Determination and Educational Assistance Act, 1988 Self-Governance Project) and housing programs...
The Pamunkey and Mattaponi initially relied upon the administrative recognition process, based in the Executive Branch's Department of the Interior - Bureau of Indian Affairs. That process requires extensive documentation of continuous tribal existence throughout time. The Virginia tribes highlight how written documentation is unreliable, in their circumstances. Many county records were burned in the Civil War, and then the General Assembly's 1924 Racial Integrity Act and forceful action by the registrar of Virginia's Bureau of Vital Statistics (Dr. Walter Plecker) suppressed, modified or purged the historical records.
To compensate for the lack of historical documentation, the Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Monacan, Nansemond, Rappahannock, and Upper Mattaponi sought special legislation directly from Congress to recognize those six Virginia tribes. As far back as 1923, the Rappahannock chief George Nelson had requested Congress to appropriate $50,000 to establish an Indian school in Virginia6 that would be separate from the Hampton Institute, which offered education to blacks and members of western tribes.
Since 2007, both Republican and Democratic legislators from Virginia have sponsored recognition bills. Some have been approved by the House of Represenatives, but the Senate has never granted recognition.
Rep. Frank Wolf (10th District) has expressed concerns that Federal recognition could lead to casino gambling authorized under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, even though tribes recognized after 1988 must comply with state laws and Virginia bans such gambling. Executive Branch officials have recommended that all Virginia tribes must go through that agency's administrative process to grant recognition. The director of the Office of Federal Acknowledgement at the Department of the Interior objected to the Thomasina Jordan Indian Tribes Of Virginia Federal Recognition Act in 2006, since a decision by Congress would allowing the Virginia tribes "to avoid the scrutiny to which other groups have been subjected." The Virginia Petroleum, Convenience And Grocery Association has also testified in opposition, fearing that convenience stores located on reservations would not charge state tobacco, gasoline, or sales taxes and could therefore undercut the competition. At the time, the state excise tax was 17.5 cents/gallon for gasoline, and the lobby group portrayed the option of a sovereign Native American tribe to set and collect its own taxes on reservation lands as "tax evasion."7
In the Federal government, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is responsible for the administrative process of Federal recognition. The agency's Frequently asked Questions (FAQ's) include:8
- What is a federally recognized tribe?
- A federally recognized tribe is an American Indian or Alaska Native tribal entity that is recognized as having a government-to-government relationship with the United States, with the responsibilities, powers, limitations, and obligations attached to that designation, and is eligible for funding and services from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
- Furthermore, federally recognized tribes are recognized as possessing certain inherent rights of self-government (i.e., tribal sovereignty) and are entitled to receive certain federal benefits, services, and protections because of their special relationship with the United States. At present, there are 566 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and villages.
- How is federal recognition status conferred?
- Historically, most of today’s federally recognized tribes received federal recognition status through treaties, acts of Congress, presidential executive orders or other federal administrative actions, or federal court decisions.
- In 1978, the Interior Department issued regulations governing the Federal Acknowledgment Process (FAP) to handle requests for federal recognition from Indian groups whose character and history varied widely in a uniform manner. These regulations – 25 C.F.R. Part 83 – were revised in 1994 and are still in effect.
- Also in 1994, Congress enacted Public Law 103-454, the Federally Recognized Indian Tribe List Act (108 Stat. 4791, 4792), which formally established three ways in which an Indian group may become federally recognized:
- - By Act of Congress,
- -By the administrative procedures under 25 C.F.R. Part 83, or
- By decision of a United States court
What happened to the 50,000 Native Americans in Virginia in 1607, including the 15,000 Algonquians living under Powhatan's control on the Coastal Plain? Many died from disease and direct conflicts with the English (mostly small-scale murder and skirmishes, but also open warfare in 1622 and 1644). Others migrated as individuals or family groups to the north, west, or south, away from the encroaching English. They joined the Iroquois, Shawnee, and Cherokee, losing their distinct identity as members in Virginia tribes.
Population Density - Percent of Persons Who Are American Indian and Alaska Native Alone: 2000
Note that the map is different when you count population totals rather than population density:
Population Totals - Percent of Persons Who Are American Indian and Alaska Native Alone: 2000
The concentration of Native Americans in the densely-populated regions of the state reflects the migration of non-Virginians into those fast-growing communities, rather than remnant populations that survived from colonial times.
- Bureau of Census
- American Indian and Alaska Native
- Profile of General Demographic Characteristics: 2000 - for Fairfax County (contrast the population totals for "American Indian and Alaska Native" in each county)
- Profile of General Demographic Characteristics: 2000 - for King William County, home of the Pamunkey and Mattaponi reservations
- The American Indian and Alaska Native Population: 2000 (Census 2000 Brief)
- Virginia - Race and Hispanic Origin: 1790 to 1990 (from Historical Census Statistics on Population Totals By Race, 1790 to 1990, and By Hispanic Origin, 1970 to 1990, For The United States, Regions, Divisions, and States - Working Paper Series No. 56, September 2002)
- Thematic Map TM-P004C - Percent of Persons Who Are American Indian and Alaska Native Alone: 2000
- We the People: American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States (Special Report, February 2006)
- Bureau of Indian Affairs
- Department of Historic Resources (State of Virginia)
- Eastern Chickahominy Tribe
- Library of Virginia
- National Atlas - Federal Lands and Indian Reservations in Virginia
- Natural Bridge
- Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation
- Rock Art of the Potomac River Fall Line
- Virginia Council on Indians
- Virginia's First People, Past & Present
1. "Out of Jamestown's Shadows," Washington Post, April 29, 2007, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/28/AR2007042801083_pf.html (last checked September 22, 2008)
2. Helen C. Rountree, Pocahontas's People: The Powhatan Indians of Virginia Through Four Centuries, University of Oklahoma Press, 1996, pp.212-218
3. "Virginia Indian tribes fight for federal recognition," Virginia Statehouse News, September 3, 2010, http://virginia.statehousenewsonline.com/682/virginia-indian-tribes-fight-for-federal-recognition/ (last checked May 27, 2012)
4. "Report to accompany S. 1178, Extending Federal Recognition To The Chickahominy Indian Tribe, The Chickahominy Indian Tribe-Eastern Division, The Upper Mattaponi Tribe, The Rappahannock Tribe, Inc., The Monacan Indian Nation, And The Nansemond Indian Tribe," US Senate, December 23, 2009, p.19, http://www.indian.senate.gov/upload/Report-111-113.pdf (last checked May 27, 2012
5. Jeff J. Corntassel and Reeva G. Tilley, "Virginia’s Indian nations: Policy issues and solutions for future generations," Virginia Issues and Answers, Vol. 8 No. 2 (Spring 2002), http://www.via.vt.edu/spring02/feature3.pdf (last checked May 27, 2012)
6. Senate Hearing 109–576 Before The Committee On Indian Affairs, S. 480 "To Extend Federal Recognition To The Chickahominy Indian Tribe, The Chickahominy Indian Tribe—Eastern Division, The Upper Mattaponi Tribe, The Rappahannock Tribe, Inc., The Monacan Indian Nation, And The Nansemond Indian Tribe," June 21, 2006, p.48, http://www.indian.senate.gov/public/_files/June212006.pdf (last checked May 27, 2012)
7. Senate Hearing 109–576. p.95, http://www.indian.senate.gov/public/_files/June212006.pdf (last checked May 27, 2012)
8. "Frequently asked Questions," Bureau of Indian Affairs, http://www.bia.gov/FAQs/index.htm (last checked September 9, 2012)
"Indians" of Virginia