Va. Indians seek federal recognition forswear casinos 4-26-07

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The effort to federally recognize six Virginia Indian tribes has inched forward in Washington after lawmakers approved a bill spelling out that the tribes would forgo their sovereign right to run casinos on tribal lands.

The vote Wednesday marked the first time the bill cleared a key House committee.

“The Native Americans who greeted the first English settlers at Jamestown have been ignored by the federal government for 400 years,” said U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr., D-Alexandria, the chief sponsor of the bill. “Today, with the committee's action, we are a step closer to righting this historical injustice.”

About 562 tribes in the United States have received federal recognition, enabling access to federal aid like college scholarships and low-interest loans.

The Virginia tribes have sought the recognition for at least seven years, but have been blocked by lawmakers worried it would open the door to Indian-run casinos.

Some lawmakers expressed concerns with the legislation Wednesday, arguing that it bypassed the typical route to federal recognition, among other concerns.

Typically, tribes win federal recognition administratively, through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. That can be a long process.

“We shouldn't move some groups to the front of the line and leave others out of the process,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. “I just don't know why we're circumventing the process here.”

Virginia tribal leaders have long pointed to the role Virginia Indians played in sustaining the nation's original settlers at Jamestown.

The emphasis has grown amid the height of Jamestown 2007, the 18-month series of events commemorating the founding of the first permanent English settlement. Queen Elizabeth II will join the activities Thursday in Richmond.

Virginia Indian leaders say it's only right that they are honored with recognition while the world is watching.

“I'm hoping and praying this is what we get this year,” said Gene Adkins, chief of the Eastern Chickahominy tribe, based in New Kent County. “To participate in the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, this should be a time when we are federally recognized.”

Besides his tribe, the bill would recognize the Chickahominy, Upper Mattaponi, Rappahannock, Monacan and Nansemond tribes.