Recognizing Virginia Indians


Six Tribes Gain Federal Recognition

VFH News | Virginia Indians

Preston Adkins (Chickahominy) dances at the ground breaking of Mantle, a tribute to Virginia Indians
Preston Adkins (Chickahominy) dances at the ground breaking of Mantle, a tribute to Virginia Indians

Six Virginia Indian tribes recently gained federal recognition, bringing to seven the number of Virginia Indian tribes acknowledged by the United States government. The recognition is the result of a bill, sponsored by House Representative Rob Wittman and Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, that was signed into law in January.

The newly recognized tribes are the Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Monacan, Nansemond, Rappahannock, and Upper Mattaponi. The Pamunkey tribe obtained federal recognition through the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 2016. All seven tribes are now counted among the 573 Native American tribes currently acknowledged by the United States government.

This is an important milestone for Virginia Indian tribes. Federal recognition allows tribes to apply for federal grants for housing, health care, and education; allows them to negotiate with the Smithsonian and other institutions for repatriation of ancestral remains and cultural objects; and to have a direct relationship with the federal government. Most important for many tribal members, it validates their identity as Native people whose ancestors have known and loved their homelands for thousands of years and who met the first colonists when they arrived here.

Four additional tribes are recognized by Virginia but not by the federal government. These include the Mattaponi, who were recognized by historic treaty, along with the Nottoway of Virginia, Cheroenhaka Nottaway, and Patawomeck, who were each recognized through state legislation.

Virginia Foundation for the Humanities has worked with the tribes in Virginia for more than twenty years and in 2007 established Virginia Indian Programs to help redress centuries of historical omission, exclusion and misrepresentation.

In 2008 we published The Virginia Indian Heritage Trail guidebook and have distributed more than 100,000 copies free of charge through Virginia Tourism Centers as well as to schools, public libraries, and other locations. The guidebook provides short histories for eight of the tribes, including the six that just attained federal recognition, plus essays written by tribal leaders, academic experts, and staff about the experiences of Virginia’s Native people. It also includes information about museums and interpretive sites, located throughout the state, where visitors can learn more. The guide is no longer available in print form, but the second edition can be found in our digital archive, Discovery Virginia, or downloaded as a PDF.

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