By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The Senate Committee of Indian Affairs approved two bills on Wednesday, March 18 that would grant federal recognition as an American Indian tribe to seven groups. The Committee passed S. 35 that would grant recognition to the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Cree in Montana and S. 465 that would acknowledge the following tribes in Virginia: the Chickahominy, the Eastern Chickahominy, the Upper Mattaponi, the Rappahannock, the Monacan, and the Nansemond.
“The Little Shell Tribe has waited long enough to be recognized,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) who is the vice chairman of the Committee. “It’s time the feds acknowledge what the tribes of Montana, the state of Montana, and most importantly, what the Little Shell members themselves know to be true. This bill will help correct a historical injustice perpetrated against the Little Shell Tribe and grant their long-awaited federal recognition.”
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), one of the co-sponsors of the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2015, had similar thoughts on the bill’s affect to Virginia tribes. “With committee approval of this legislation to grant federal recognition to six Virginia tribes, we are one step closer to rectifying this grave injustice. We won’t give up until the tribes receive the recognition they deserve and have fought so hard to achieve.”
However, not everyone on the Committee was in favor of passing the bills. “I’ve stated my position on legislative recognition before,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Senate Committee on Indian Affairs chairman, told Indianz.com. “There is an exacting administrative process that is the proper course of action for all groups seeking recognition.”
The Little Shell Tribe has been trying to seek recognition through the BIA process since they submitted a Petition for Recognition in 1978. In 2009, Interior Department officials issued a final determination not to recognize the Tribe. In review of all of the evidence in the record, the Department concluded that the Little Shell did not satisfy three of the seven mandatory criteria for acknowledgment, specifically that a tribe:
- has been identified as an Indian entity on a substantially continuous basis at least since 1900;
- comprise a distinct community since historical times and maintain significant social relationships and interaction as part of a distinct community; and
- maintain political influence over a community of its members or over communities that combined into the petitioner.
However, in September 2013, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell ordered a reconsideration on the petition. No rulings have been made since.
The Virginia tribes have had their legislation make it out of Committee several times already. In 2009 and 2011, the Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act was passed by the Committee and in 2013, the Thomasina E. Jordan bill passed. All of the bills died without being enacted.
Bills S. 35 and S. 465 now await action by the full Senate.