Trump signs legislation recognizing Virginia tribes

President Donald Trump signed a bill Monday evening federally recognizing six Virginia-based tribes.

The Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Upper Mattaponi, Rappahannock, Monacan and Nansemond tribes are a part of the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2017.

They will now have the opportunity to compete for federal dollars for educational programs and grants and receive affordable health care for tribal elders.

Federal status also means the tribes can repatriate the remains of their ancestors in a respectful manner. Many of the remains reside in the Smithsonian, but without federal status there is no mandate to return the remains, according to a news release from state Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner about the signing.

"Today closes a chapter on a decades-long pursuit of justice for Virginia's tribes," the senators said. "Virginia's tribes have loved and served this nation, and today our country is finally honoring them with the recognition they deserve. We are inspired by the tribes' leaders who never gave up and thankful to our colleagues Representatives Connolly, Beyer and Scott and Wittman for working with us to ensure this was the year that we righted a historical wrong."

State Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Westmoreland, introduced H.R. 984 on Feb. 7, 2017. The bill passed the House on May 17 and the Senate on Jan. 11.

"Our 'first contact' tribes of the commonwealth of Virginia will finally receive the recognition they deserve," Wittman said. "This is an issue of respect; federal recognition acknowledges and protects the historical and cultural identities of these tribes. Not only will it affirm the government-to-government relationship between the United States and the Virginia tribes, but it will create opportunities to enhance and protect the well-being of tribal members."

The tribes join the Pamunkey, who were granted recognition through the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs in 2016. The King William-based tribe also had to fend off a challenge to their recognition from a California group that opposes tribal gaming during that process.

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