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Seven Tribes Closer to Federal Recognition

Seven Tribes Closer to Federal Recognition
March 24
06:55 2015

Native Amer MAP    LARGEBy John Christian Hopkins

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee has endorsed two tribal recognition bills despite the backing of the committee’s chairman.

The committee approved federal recognition for the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians and Montana and a bill that affects a half dozen Virginia tribes.

The bills next advance to the full Senate; where the odds of passage would appear slim. The full Senate has not approved stand-alone federal recognition bills since the mid-1990s.

“I’ve stated my position on legislative recognition before,” Chairman Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) said. There is an “exacting administrative process” that should be followed by all tribes seeking federal recognition, he explained.

But the vice chairman, Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) believes that the Little Shell tribe has waited long enough.

Tribes seeking federal recognition must go through an arduous process that stretches on for years. The Little Shell band has followed the regular administrative process for more than a decade, receiving contradictory rulings that have still not been resolved.

“For too long, the Little Shell Tribe has jumped through bureaucratic hoops and compiled stacks of paperwork to secure federal recognition,” freshman Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) said.

It is time that injustice ended, he added.

Chief Thomas Little Shell (1830-1901) led the band Chippewa (commonly known as Ojibway) in the late 1800s. The band is known as one of the “landless tribes,” as it was never assigned a reservation by the federal government. The Little Shell tribe has been officially recognized by the state of Montana.

Little Shell was one of the signers of the 1863 Treaty of Old Crossing, in which the tribe ceded rights to its lands in Minnesota and North Dakota.  When the government came back to get more of the tribe’s land, Little Shell refused to negotiate with them for nearly 30 years.

During his last decade of life, when white encroachment saw the tribe losing its lands without compensation, Little Shell attempted to sell 10 million acres of his tribe’s land for $1-per-acre. The government responded by offering 10-cents an acre. No settlement was reached, nor did the government approve a reservation for the tribe.

The six Virginia tribes find themselves in a different – and more difficult – position. Though none of the tribes petitioned the Bureau of Indian Affairs for federal recognition, they were among the first Indian tribes to enter into treaties with the Jamestown colonists. And, though they have maintained long relationships with outside governments, their situation is complicated by racist Virginia laws that stripped them of their Indian identities.

With the committee’s approval, the six, historic Virginia tribes move one step closer to recognition, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA.) said in a press release.

“We are one step closer to rectifying this grave injustice,” Kaine said.

The six Virginia tribes that would gain federal recognition under S.465 are the Chickahominy Tribe, Chickahominy Indian Tribe—Eastern Division, the Upper Mattaponi Tribe, the Rappahannock Tribe, the Monacan Nation and the Nansemond Tribe.

The Mattaponi is one of only two Virginia tribes to have an actual reservation. The Upper Mattaponi organized themselves into a separate tribe in 1921.

Archaeologists suspect the Mattaponi people had been living in the Virginia area for 15,000 years.

The tribe was first identified by name in 1607 by explorer John Smith. They were among the 30 smaller tribes that made up the Powhatan Confederacy, which also included the Rappahannock and Chickahominy

“This recognition is well earned and overdue,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) said.

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