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The Bureau of Indian Affairs has decided the Virginia-based Indian tribe of Powhatan and Pocahontas meets the requirements to be a federally recognized tribe, opening the door to housing, education and healthcare funding.
The tribe was the most powerful of 32 in the area when the English first arrived in Virginia in 1607, according to a post on Colonial Williamsburg’s blog detailing the tribe.
In the ensuing years, the tribe and the colonists clashed. By 1669, the tribe’s population had fallen from 20,000 to less than 3,000.
Now most the Pamunkey Tribe resides on an about 1,200 acres in southeastern King William County. There are currently 203 members of the tribe, and it elects its own leaders, according to a BIA news release.
The Pamunkey Tribe is the first federally recognized tribe in Virginia.
The tribe, which has been recognized by the state of Virginia since colonial times, has been seeking federal recognition for years. Federal recognition allows for Tribe members to apply for and receive several federal benefits open to Native Americans.
A call from WYDaily to the tribe has not yet been returned.
Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine issued a news release praising the decision.
“I congratulate the Pamunkey Indian Tribe on finally receiving this long-overdue federal recognition,” Warner said in the release. “This historic milestone also reminds us of the work that remains before us to correct the injustices committed against Virginia Indian tribes.”
Kaine said he is “thrilled” the tribe has received federal recognition.
“Despite the integral role the tribes played in American history and the unique cultures they have continued to maintain for thousands of years, they have faced barriers to recognition due to extraordinary circumstances out of their control,” he said.
Both senators used the release to urge their colleagues to support legislation they have introduced that would recognize five other Indian tribes in Virginia.
“This is a historic day in Virginia. I want to congratulate members of the Pamunkey tribe on their tireless efforts to ensure that they receive the federal recognition that they deserve,” Governor Terry McAuliffe said in a news release.
In its analysis of the tribe, BIA found it met several requirements for federal recognition:
- The tribe has continuously identified as an American Indian tribe since 1900
- It exists as a distinct community and has exercised political influence over its membership since historical times.
- It has furnished documents describing its governance and membership criteria.
- It has issued a list of current members who have descended from the historical tribe and who are not members of other federally recognized tribes.
- It has never been a party to federal legislation terminating or forbidding federal recognition.
The federal government currently recognizes more than 560 tribes, comprising about 1.9 million American and Alaska Indians.
BIA works with those tribes by offering a range of services, including an education system featuring 183 schools and 28 tribal colleges and universities, economic development programs for depressed areas, financial aid for law enforcement services and the repair of roads and other infrastructure.