Virginia’s Indians recognized by House; closer to ending historic injustice (Rep. Jim Moran)

We took a major step yesterday with House passage of legislation (H.R. 1385) granting Virginia's Indians their long awaited federal recognition.

Virginia's Tribes greeted the English settlers when they landed at Jamestown, the first permanent colony in the New World, in 1607. In those early days of America’s history, Virginia’s Indians played an integral role, helping the settlers survive those first harsh winters. Unfortunately, beginning with colonization, the next 400 years saw Virginia’s Native Americans brutally and systematically mistreated.

This racial hostility against Virginia’s Indians culminated with the enactment and cruel enforcement of Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924. The act empowered zealots, like Walter Plecker, a state official, to destroy records and reclassify in Orwellian fashion all non-whites as “colored.” To call oneself a “Native American” in Virginia was to risk a jail sentence of up to one year. Married couples were denied marriage certificates and were unable to obtain release of their newborn children from the hospital until they changed their ethnicity on the state record to read “colored,” not “Native American.” For much of the 20th Century admission to public school education was denied. Even after federally enforced integration, the state allowed localities to deny Native American children bus service to public schools.

Known as “paper genocide,” this state-imposed policy destroyed early and contemporary records to undermine Native American claims that Virginia’s Indians still existed. These gaps make it nearly impossible for the tribes to pursue federal recognition through the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs acknowledgement process. Their last resort is pursuing an act of Congress, which I have been assisting them with since 1999.

Senator Webb has introduced companion legislation in the Senate to recognize the tribes. Teaming with Senator Mark Warner and with encouragement from Governor Kaine, Virginia's Indians long hoped for recognition finally has all the pieces of the puzzle together to right this historic injustice. We are getting ever closer to allowing our Commonwealth’s tribes to assume their rightful place alongside the 562 tribes currently recognized by the federal government.

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