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Pocahontas Gets Her Due

Pocahontas Gets Her Due
July 03
09:20 2015

Virginia finally has a federally recognized Indian tribe.

The state where English settlers first met the natives more than 400 years ago now recognizes the 208-member Pamunkey Tribe.

Back in 1607 the Pamunkey first met John Smith and the other residents of Jamestown, and one of their members – Pocahontas – became entwined in American folklore. But over the centuries the tribe seemingly faded from memory.


“This is a group that Pocahontas was a member of, so it truly is a historical act,” Kevin Washburn, assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, said.


The tribe’s 1,200-acre reservation is located east of Richmond.

The BIA decision takes effect in 90 days. The Pamunkey’s become only the second tribe to gain federal recognition during the Obama administration.

The BIA’s decision allows the Pamunkey to join the other 566 federally recognized tribes, and makes them eligible for federal funding for health care, education and other things.


It could open the door to a future casino, though Pamunkey Chief Kevin Brown said no decisions have been made.


“Everybody focuses on gaming, but there’s a lot of opportunities for federally recognized tribes because of your unique status, your tax-exempt status and your sovereign territory,” Brown explained.


But gaming has been central to their battle – with the tribe’s fiercest opposition coming from a California group opposed to gambling and MGM, which is planning to open a casino in the area.


Opposition to the tribe’s bid also came from local businesses that worry the tribe might open their own retail outlets and take away their business.

The Pamunkey tribe’s presence has been well documented since English settlers arrived on Virginia’s shores. Scholars estimate that there were 14,000 to 21,000 members of the Powhatan Confederacy — Algonquian-speaking tribes that included the Pamunkey — when the English settlers arrived in 1607. The Indians provided the colonists with food and aid.


Each year, in a much-photographed event Thanksgiving week, the Pamunkey and Mattaponi tribes present the governor of Virginia with two deer and a turkey in lieu of taxes. The Pamunkey reservation, among the oldest in the United States, is based on treaties signed with the English government in 1646 and 1677.

Virginia Sens. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and Mark R. Warner (D) issued a joint news release praising the BIA’s decision.

“Despite the integral role the tribes played in American history and the unique cultures they have continued to maintain for thousands of years, they have faced barriers to recognition due to extraordinary circumstances out of their control,” Kaine said.

Thursday’s announcement is an important step toward righting a “historical wrong,” he added.

“I’m optimistic that the federal government’s decision to recognize the Pamunkey will spur Congress to act on our bill that seeks long-overdue recognition for six other Virginia tribes — the Chickahominy, the Eastern Chickahominy, the Upper Mattaponi, the Rappahannock, the Monacan and the Nansemond,” Kaine said.


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