Legislation granting the Virginia Indians their long awaited federal recognition is on track for another major victory this week.
At the time of this writing, the bill is preparing to go before the House Rules Committee. The Rules Committee will determine the amount of time on the House floor the bill will be debated and if any amendments will be allowed. If all goes according to plan, the bill should pass the House by the end of the day, Wednesday.
Tribal leaders were in town Monday to press for the legislation’s swift passage. While the bill has strong, bipartisan support, Virginia’s Indians aren’t taking any chances this year. They distributed letters to all 435 Members of Congress, signed by Chickahominy Chief Wayne Adkins, President of the Virginia Indian Tribal Alliance. The letters made the case why Virginia’s Indians haven’t been recognized previously and why, after 400 years, Congress should take this opportunity to correct an injustice.
On an interesting historical note, included with each letter of support was a packet containing a kernel of corn. Corn is a powerful symbol in Indian culture. During votes on important tribal decisions, kernels were used. Placing a kernel of corn in the voting box signified a “yes” vote, while submitting a pea qualified a “no” vote. While it would be fitting if the kernel could be used as an official way to vote this week, I must report that we will still need our voting cards to cast a yes ballot Wednesday.
With Wednesday’s likely passage, Virginia’s Indians are one big step closer to joining the 562 tribes currently recognized by the federal government. It is my understanding that Senator Webb is preparing to introduce companion legislation in the Senate any day now, another major step.
Congress has the opportunity and ability to right an historic wrong. We can finally close a sad chapter in American history, one that included a paper genocide in the 1920’s that sought to erase Virginia’s tribes from the record books. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House and Senate to see that the Commonwealth’s tribes are finally granted their rightful recognition. While there are no guarantees, prospects are high that we can get this bill signed into law by the end of the 111th Congress.