Nottoway Indians denied recognition

Published 8:05 am Friday, May 29, 2009

FRANKLIN—An Indian group petitioning to become a tribe recognized by the state suffered a setback this month after a key committee rejected the group’s bid.

The Virginia Council on Indians, which uses six criteria to determine whether a petitioning group qualifies as a tribe, voted 6-3 at its meeting May 19 to reject a petition by Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia Inc. of Surry.

Despite the vote, the Nottoways intend to press on.

“It’s not over and it should not be assumed to be over …” Chief Lynette Lewis Allston said Tuesday.

In a letter dated May 21 to Gov. Tim Kaine and other state officials, Allard Allston, who is Chief Allston’s husband and serves as corporate counsel for Nottoway Indian Tribe Inc., blasted the vote saying that he believed three members voted when they shouldn’t have.

“I must insist that those three votes be discarded as improperly cast,” Allard Allston said.

He identified the council members as Reeva Tilly, Kevin Brown and Reggie Stewart.

According to Allard Alston, Tilly and Brown had not attended any previous VCI meetings about the Nottoways’ petition for state recognition, a process that has been going on for three years.

He said the vote — which was called to adopt a recommendation by the VCI recognition committee to deny tribal recognition of the group — should be changed to a 3-3 result.

In March, the recognition committee voted 3-1 to deny recognition of the Nottoways by the full VCI.

A 3-3 vote by the VCI would allow the Nottoways to proceed with their quest for state recognition through two alternative means: a proclamation from the governor’s office or a resolution through the General Assembly.

“Those efforts can proceed without either the blessing or taint of a questionable VCI review and voting process,” Allard Alston said. “A split vote also likely reflects the reality of the opinions of those VCI members who have had the most consistent attendance at full VCI meetings for the last 18 months.”

Eight tribes have been recognized by Virginia: the Pamunkey and Mattaponi in the 1600s, the Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Rappahannock and Upper Mattaponi in 1983, the Nansemond in 1985 and the Monacan Indian Nation in 1989.

“The other (eight) tribes didn’t have to go through this level of scrutiny to be recognized,” said Chief Allston, who added that the VCI, since its inception in 1982, has never added a tribe to the list of those recognized by Virginia. “It’s a double standard.”

Six other groups are currently petitioning the VCI for state recognition: the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian Tribe, Appalachian Intertribal Heritage Association Inc., United Cherokee Indian Tribe of Virginia Inc., Blue Ridge Cherokee Inc., Tauxenent Indian Nation, and the Bear Saponi Tribe of Clinch Mountain.

“We are very quiet people,” Chief Allston said. “Our desire is to be acknowledged for who we are as descendants of the Nottoway people who have always lived in this area.”

Meanwhile, a bill seeking federal recognition of six other Virginia tribes is being discussed in Congress.

The bill — House Resolution 1385, also known as the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2009 — seeks recognition of the Chickahominy Indian Tribe, the Chickahominy Indian Tribe-Eastern Division, the Upper Mattaponi Tribe, the Rappahannock Tribe Inc., the Monacan Indian Nation, and the Nansemond Indian Tribe. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Alexandria) is the bill’s sponsor.

The federal government currently recognizes 562 tribes in the United States.

Chief Stephen R. Adkins of the Chickahominy Indian Tribe, who is also a VCI member, said the federal law would guarantee the tribes access to archaeological sites on public land, give the tribes’ the ability to retrieve the bones of ancestors from federal repositories, and create a formal relationship between the tribes and the federal government.