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I have long suggested that the Native or Original American tribes in Virginia should have Federal recognition but with a proviso that hey could not have casino gambling.

I was inspired by a Native American descendant, from the Rappahannock tribe named Keir Burton, who goes to my church (Hanover Nazarene), to change my position  on this issue.  These opinions are mine, not Burton’s, but he opened my eyes to things I knew but did not process well.  I told Keir I would blog on this and use his name with permission.  He gave it.  Again, these are MY views not his!

It seems that the Native Americans wee here first and they were valid tribes.  There ws also an systematic attempt by the Commonwealth of Virginia to eradicate the Native American tribes.  Dr. Walter A. Plecker, the registrar of the Bureau of Vital Statistics from 1912 to 1946 refused to recognize Native Americans as a separate race:

In the early 1900s, groups of Virginia Indians reorganized into tribes. The move by Indian descendants to form tribes was seen as a threat by some people who wanted to keep the white race “pure.” Led by Dr. Walter A. Plecker, a group called the Anglo-Saxon Club of America prevailed upon the General Assembly to pass the Racial Integrity Law in 1924. According to this law, in matters of births, marriages, and deaths, the Virginia Bureau of Vital Statistics recognized only two races — white and black. Recent newspaper accounts and books by historians hold that Dr. Plecker, as registrar of the Bureau of Vital Statistics from 1912 to 1946, waged a one-man war against Virginia’s Indians. United States Census figures in 1930 showed 779 Native Americans living in Virginia; by 1940, the figure dropped to 198. In effect, people of Indian descent did not exist.

After 1924, the Indians of Virginia legally could not attend white schools or marry whites. They had to wed in churches outside the state to be recorded as Indian. They lost the means to document through state and county records Virginia Indian populations, movements of families, or family ties. Lloyd John, a Monacan, tells how the effects of the Racial Integrity Law of 1924 remain today: “I looked up my family records and found that my grandparents were labeled first white, then Indian, then Indian mix. Very strange progression! I wondered why the change. Even brothers and sisters were labeled differently. Seems like someone wanted to do away with the Indians.” Today, some Indians bitterly remember this period when their cultural identity was nearly smothered.

Today two tribes have Federal recognition but six others do not:

Today there are eight tribes in Virginia and two small reservations. There are 5,000 people on the tribal registers, and the census figures show another 45,000 people of Indian ancestry living across Virginia. Two tribes, the Pamunkey and the Mattaponi, have small reservations in King William County. Their state reservations date from the 1600s. Six other incorporated groups are officially recognized as Indian tribes by the Commonwealth of Virginia. They are the: Chickahominy Indian Tribe in Charles City County; Chickahominy Indian Tribe — Eastern Division in New Kent County; Monacan Indian Tribe in Amherst County; Nansemond Indian Tribal Association in the City of Chesapeake; Rappahannock Indian Tribe in Essex, Caroline, and King & Queen Counties; and the Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe in King William County. These six tribes are also seeking federal recognition.

Some oppose Federal recognition due to the possibility of Indian casinos in the Commonwealth.  Let me make my position clear:  I do not agree with any sort of state-supported gambling, nor do I condone private gambling either.  My denomination severely frowns on any kind of gambling.   However, as a libertarian, I see private gambling as something that should be legal with appropriate regulation.  The lottery should be privatized or abolished.  But private rules on gambling are well-meaning but inappropriate for a free people.

However, if the Native American tribes want a casino, that is THEIR BUSINESS ONLY.  We certainly did not treat the Native Americans right in the past; even given the right of conquest to build a great nation.  However, sovereignty means exactly that.  Sovereignty.  I understand the Governor of Virginia has to approve any casino request and there needs to be cooperation in that endeavor if it comes to that.  Keir advised me that many tribal leaders are strong followers of Christ and do not want casinos.  Let’s encourage them in that.  Other forms of revenue such as tourism or some sort of resort are certainly more appropriate than casinos.  Perhaps we need to see about the Virginia tribes and the Eastern Shore of Virginia before we take care of Steven Spielberg and/or the Washington Redskins with public or semi-public subsidies.

However, I urge my readers to contact their congressman and the two senators and ask them to support Federal recognition of the remaining six Virginia Native American tribes.  I am tracking this article back to Congressman Cantor and my two senators.  I also would suggest as a long term project, to reform severely the Bureau of Indian Affairs to remove the paternalist and socialist treatment of Native American tribes.  We placed the Native Americans on reservations, usually on useless land the whites did not want, and then said:  Fend for yourself.  I cannot blame the Native Americans for establishing a casino, they are great money makers.  (I would add that legal gambling has societal costs, too and they might outweigh the benefits.)  But what else can they do?  Some sort of service industry is probably necessary – or a factory/light industry.  It is not an easy issue to resolve.   But we can start with Federal sovereignty for all the Virginia tribes.


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About Elwood Sanders

Elwood "Sandy" Sanders is a Hanover attorney who is an Appellate Procedure Consultant for Lantagne Legal Printing and has written ten scholarly legal articles. Sandy was also Virginia's first Appellate Defender and also helped bring curling in VA! (None of these titles imply any endorsement of Sanders’ views)

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Tom White Says:

Nothing is more conservative than a republican wanting to get their majority back. And nothing is more liberal than a republican WITH a majority.

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