Recognition of the tribes

by Peter J. Teagle - Posted on Oct 10, 2018 - 02:07 PM

Photo: Following the ceremony, an intertribal dance with members of all seven tribes present took place to celebrate the legislation. Photo by Peter J. Teagle

Following the ceremony, an intertribal dance with members of all seven tribes present took place to celebrate the legislation. Photo by Peter J. Teagle

Photo: The Chickahominy tribe, which consists of around 840 members on 110 acres in Charles City County, was one of seven tribes represented at last Wednesday’s ceremony in Gloucester, acknowledging federal recognition of the native nations. Many tribe members donned bright regalia for the celebration. Pictured above are, from left, Brandon Adkins, Sophia Adkins, Chief Steve Adkins Jr., Mikayla Adkins, and Nansemond tribe member Nikki Bass. Photo by Peter J. Teagle

The Chickahominy tribe, which consists of around 840 members on 110 acres in Charles City County, was one of seven tribes represented at last Wednesday’s ceremony in Gloucester, acknowledging federal recognition of the native nations. Many tribe members donned bright regalia for the celebration. Pictured above are, from left, Brandon Adkins, Sophia Adkins, Chief Steve Adkins Jr., Mikayla Adkins, and Nansemond tribe member Nikki Bass. Photo by Peter J. Teagle

Photo: Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Montross) presents Rappahannock Tribal Chief Anne Richardson with a framed copy of the legislation recognizing hers and six other tribes at the federal level. Wittman introduced the bill on Capitol Hill and was thanked by Richardson and several other chiefs for his work representing them. Richardson also thanked President Trump for “doing the right thing” in signing the bill into law. Photo by Peter J. Teagle

Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Montross) presents Rappahannock Tribal Chief Anne Richardson with a framed copy of the legislation recognizing hers and six other tribes at the federal level. Wittman introduced the bill on Capitol Hill and was thanked by Richardson and several other chiefs for his work representing them. Richardson also thanked President Trump for “doing the right thing” in signing the bill into law. Photo by Peter J. Teagle

The grounds of Werowocomoco in Gloucester County have seen a great deal of history dating back at least 800 years, centuries before the first Europeans made initial contact with the local indigenous population in 1607.

Last Wednesday one more historic event was added to that rich lineage, as seven Virginia native tribes were formally recognized by the federal government as sovereign nations.

The recognition bill, which was introduced by Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Montross), had bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Trump on Jan. 29. Of the seven tribes present, the Pamunkey had already been federally recognized in 2016, but joined the other native tribes in celebrating this historic day.

Tribes present alongside the Pamunkey were the Chickahominy, Chickahominy Eastern Division, Monacan, Nansemond, Rappahannock and Upper Mattaponi.

Representatives from the federal government joined the chiefs in an exchange of remarks and gifts, including Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Wittman, representatives from Gov. Ralph Northam’s and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine’s offices, and the National Park Service.

The event began with a blessing of the ground by Chief Anne Richardson of the Rappahannock Nation and an intertribal drum circle and chant. “I look to the north and thank you, Great Creator,” the chief said. “Bring us the wisdom … that we will be counseled.” Representatives from all tribes then proceeded with their respective flags to the stage.

In his remarks Wittman called the recognition “a long time coming” and “overdue” before commending the tribes for their self-advocacy and perseverance. “Through faith, through dedication, today is indeed here,” Wittman said.

Zinke followed Wittman, describing the importance of sovereignty. “My job is to make sure the tribes are sovereign. And sovereignty means something,” he said, “that the destiny of every nation is theirs to decide.” 

Zinke said he was of the opinion that it was the government’s job to “get out of the way so the tribes can decide” when it comes to issues affecting the native nations.

Chief Richardson called the recognition “liberty” and “justice” for the tribes and praised the decision to make good on “the promises of our constitution.”

In legal terms, this recognition means that the governments of each native tribe will be exist on a “government-to-government relationship with the United States,” according to the NPS. Tribes will also become eligible for funding and services from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Located on the banks of the York River at Purtan Bay, Werowocomoco was the village that served as headquarters of the Powhatan tribe at the time of the establishment of the first permanent English settlement at Jamestown in 1607.

As part of last week’s ceremony, each chief was presented with a framed copy of the bill signed into law. An intertribal dance and light lunch followed, with the Ripley family who owns the property, opening their grounds to hundreds of guests, some of whom were visiting like their European predecessors more than 400 years ago and some returning to the grounds occupied by their ancestors for almost a millennia.