Column: Native American bill in Trump's hands now

rbrauchle@tidewaterreview.com

President Trump didn’t win many friends Thursday during an Oval Office meeting on immigration, where he disparaged the countries thousands of African migrants flee from every year.

His comments were crass and uncalled for, regardless of his policies on protecting our borders and removing illegal aliens, and he was swiftly rebuked by leaders worldwide, including from both of our political parties. What little credentials he had built up concerning civil rights were quickly swept away.

Rather than focus on the fault, let’s look at an opportunity to cure it.

The answer sits on Trump’s desk in the form of a bill approved by both the House (in May 2017) and Senate Thursday granting federal recognition to six Indian tribes in Virginia.

The bill would repair decades of injustice and officially acknowledge the tribes’ place in U.S. history. By signing the bill, Trump would make federal funds available to about 4,400 members of the Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Upper Mattaponi, Rappahannock, Monacan and Nansemond tribes for services such as housing, education and medical care.

Nothing I have seen shows me Trump believes acts of goodwill are a form of currency, especially when it comes to policy matters. He does, however, love a good deal.

Federal recognition for these tribes would be the best of deals, and here’s why:

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe received federal recognition — albeit by petitioning the Interior Board of Indian Appeals — in January 2016 after defeating a challenge from a California-based anti-gaming group concerned about casinos.

Just two years later, its leaders are working with local and federal officials to create PamunkeyNet, which would utilize localities’ public safety radio infrastructure to provide a regional broadband internet service administrated by the Pamunkey tribe. The tribe is also talking with a regional committee formed to bring broadband internet to the nearby Middle Peninsula.

High-speed internet is vital for rural communities to connect to our fast-paced economy. PamunkeyNet would link to nearby colleges, state and federal facilities and existing broadband networks in Hampton Roads and Richmond.

The economic benefits are limitless, and they were born from the Pamunkey’s federal recognition.

The tribes included in the federal bill, as well as the Pamunkey, were part of the Powhatan Nation, a confederation of eastern Virginia tribes that were among the first to greet English settlers in 1607. The tribes’ history is generations deeper than that of the Europeans who settled here.

Why are these tribes not federally recognized yet? Because Virginia has spent decades going out of its way to stifle the existence of Native American communities.

Virginia politicians openly fought against Native American recognition until the early 1970s.

The Virginia Racial Integrity Act of 1924 required that births in the state be registered as either “white” or “colored,” meaning Native Americans were no longer officially recognized in Old Dominion until the law was fully repealed in 1975.

Virginia, and the country, still needs to go a long way to repair the damage created by decades of on-the-books discrimination toward Native Americans.

Trump, ever the campaigner, could create confidence in his local base by signing this bill.

After all, Tidewater is Trumpwater.

During the 2016 presidential election, Trump won 44 percent of Virginia votes, losing the state to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. In deep-red Tidewater, he took closer to 65 percent of the ballots. What better way to reach his base than to sign a bill that could enliven the economy here.

Think of the goodwill, good business and good headlines — because positive press is decidedly important to Trump — he would produce by signing this federal recognition bill. All he needs to do is pick up his pen.

Brauchle is the editor of the Tidewater Review. He can be reached at 757-846-4361.

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