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Six Indian Tribes Fight for Recognition

“We would like to see them move faster, as they would like to see us move faster,” said Lee Fleming, director of the Interior Department’s Federal Acknowledgement Office.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee passed legislation granting federal recognition to the 55,000-member Lumbee tribe of North Carolina in May. The Virginia tribes, which are a fraction of that size, hope the movement is an indication that the committee will take their bill up next.

But some Members, including Warner, remain concerned that a federal recognition bill could open up gaming rights for the tribes, which he opposes.

The House measure that passed last year does not grant the Virginia tribes the ability to operate casinos, but Senators remain skeptical.

“While [Warner] supports tribal recognition, he is concerned that the bill as drafted could produce the unintended consequence of allowing Virginia Indian tribes greater rights to conduct gambling activities beyond the limitations currently established under Virginia’s laws,” a Warner spokeswoman said.

Chickahominy Chief Stephen Adkins, who isn’t related to Wayne Adkins, said none of the tribes on the bill wants gaming rights.

“Philosophically, we don’t perceive it as the right thing to do. Get-rich schemes aren’t the right thing to do,” he said.

A Rich History

The Upper Mattaponi, like Virginia’s other tribes, can trace its roots back to the Powhatan tribe living in the middle of the state alongside English settlers in the 1600s.

Today many of the Upper Mattaponi members live near the tribe’s 32 acres of land in Virginia’s middle peninsula. Members of the five other tribes on the bill also live in the area. (Virginia’s two other Indian tribes, the Pamunkey and Mattaponi, while also recognized by the state, are not on the federal legislation.)

With a rich history, the Upper Mattaponi’s Sharon Indian School is the oldest Native American school in the entire state. Built in 1919, with a new building replacing the original in 1952, the school served all the tribe’s children until 1965, when the state’s schools were integrated.

The school was returned to the Upper Mattaponi in 1987; it is listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Buildings.

Ken Adams of the Upper Mattaponi tribe was a student at the Sharon Indian School. The white high school, King William High, was just two miles down Route 30, but until Adams reached high school age in the mid-1960s, it was off-limits to Native Americans.

“The integration caused us to lose a sense of our community,” said Adams, a retired 24-year veteran of the Air Force, who was only one of two Native Americans in his graduating class. “When we were placed in other schools, we lost some of our connection.”

In an effort to reconnect, several members are studying the tribe’s native language, the Algonquin, “so that we don’t lose our common tongue,” Adams noted.

The Chickahominy in nearby Charles City County, Va., has also launched a language and history class for its younger members, and all six tribes use their Baptist churches as a main gathering place for worship and community activities.

The Virginia tribes had a stint in the limelight last year when the commonwealth marked the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown.

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