Language reworded for recognition of tribes

Published 8:29 am Friday, March 12, 2010

FRANKLIN—Legislation to extend state recognition to two local Indian tribes has been reworded but is expected to pass before the General Assembly adjourns on Saturday.

The Senate agreed to amendments to two pieces of legislation — joint resolutions H.J. 32 and H.J. 171 — during a voice vote on Thursday. The bills extend state recognition to Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia Inc. and the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian Tribe of Southampton County, respectively.

Sen. John Edwards (D-Roanoke) had the amendment attached to the two bills. The amendment states that the General Assembly “does not confirm, confer, grant, or recognize any rights or privileges, including any vested or non-vested rights to property real and personal,” to the tribes.

“It’s had several amendments,” Chief Lynette Allston of Nottoway Tribe of Virginia Inc. said Thursday of bill H.J. 32. “They reworded some sections and it was adopted again today.”

Allston said other modifications included having all references to the “Commonwealth of Virginia” changed to the “General Assembly.”

“Some of it was just simply formatting,” Allston said. “It’s more wording than anything else.

Asked if she thought the House would pass the amended bills by Saturday, Allston said “Probably. The Senate one is all finished. It was just a matter of making sure all the language was comparable.”

Similar legislation has already passed both houses of the General Assembly for the two tribal groups. Joint resolutions S.J. 12, introduced by Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), and S.J. 127, introduced by Sen. Frank Ruff Jr. (R-Clarksville), both passed the Senate by votes of 40-0 on Feb 16. S.J. 12 then passed the House on Feb. 26 by a vote of 91-5, and S.J. 127 passed on the same day, 89-7.

Both of the advanced bills contain language that state the General Assembly “does not address the question of whether the (tribes have) been continuously in existence since 1776,” and also the legislature “does not confirm, confer, or address in any manner any issues of sovereignty.”

The Senate agreed to House amendments on both bills on March 2.

“All of the bills conform to the same language,” Allston said.

Chief Walt “Red Hawk” Brown of the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian Tribe of Southampton County could not be reached for comment Thursday.

A third Indian tribe, Patawomeck Indian Tribe in Stafford County, received state recognition when the House passed bill H.J. 150 on Feb. 18.

Eight other 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 three tribes will receive seats to the Virginia Council on Indians, a state committee that in May rejected recognition for Nottoway Indian Tribe Inc.