Indian Recognition or Ransom

Re: Tribes threaten Jamestown protest

By Allen G. Breed


December 26, 2005, Washington Times

JAMESTOWN, Va. — American Indian leaders in Virginia are threatening to turn their participation in Jamestown’s 400th anniversary celebration into a protest if they don’t gain federal recognition by 2007.

The main sticking point is casino gambling — something the tribes insist they don’t even want.

“We’re not asking for something that is not ours,” says Stephen Adkins, chief of the Chickahominy tribe. “We’re trying to reclaim that sovereignty that we believe God gave us. And why should man be allowed to take that away from us?”

The latest push for recognition coincides with the Christmas release of the movie “The New World,” a retelling of the story of Jamestown leader Capt. John Smith and Pocahontas, daughter of the great chief Powhatan.

Between 3,000 and 5,000 people belong to the eight state-recognized tribes that have applied for federal recognition through the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs.

That tortuous 20-plus-year process requires tribes to submit voluminous historical and genealogical evidence to back claims of legitimacy.

Arguing that those records have been obscured by systematic discrimination in Virginia, the Chickahominy, Upper Mattaponi, Eastern Chickahominy, Monacan, Nansemond and Rappahannock are seeking an expedited route to recognition via an act of Congress.

The Mattaponi and Pamunkey tribes, the only Virginia Indians with their own reservations, are not part of the congressional efforts.

Virginia’s two U.S. senators have pushed recognition bills since 2000.

The state’s General Assembly has recognized the tribes on the state level since the 1980s and overwhelmingly passed a resolution backing federal recognition.

The federal effort has stalled, largely because of the efforts of U.S. Rep. Frank R. Wolf, a Republican whose district includes Frederick and Loudoun counties and part of Fairfax County and a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

Mr. Wolf argues that the tribes could have achieved recognition three years ago had they been willing to agree to local boards of supervisors going to jail.

The tribes blame their lack of recognition on Virginia’s 1924 Racial Integrity Act, which made it illegal for whites and nonwhites to marry.

After pushing for passage of that act, Walter Plecker, registrar of the state’s Bureau of Vital Statistics, campaigned to prevent the “mongrelization” of the white “master race” by what he called “pseudo-Indians.”

Plecker ordered that the Indians be classified as “colored” on birth and marriage certificates and threatened doctors and midwives with jail for noncompliance.

The result, say the tribes, was a “paper genocide.”

Kenneth Branham, 52, chief of the Monacan tribe of the western Virginia mountains, said his parents were wed in Maryland because they couldn’t be married as Indians at home.

He was one of the first Monacan to graduate from public schools in rural Amherst County because Indians weren’t allowed to attend schools with whites until 1963.

A few miles outside Richmond, Kenneth Adams, 58, sits in the two-room, red-brick Indian school he attended until his senior year of high school.

The chief of the Upper Mattaponi tribe has said that federal recognition means much more to him than slot machines, roulette wheels or blackjack tables.

Mr. Adams said he seeks the same benefits enjoyed by the 562 tribes acknowledged by the Department of the Interior.

They include college scholarship money for the tribe’s young students, housing assistance for its elderly and the right to possess and use eagle feathers in the tribe’s sacred ceremonies.


My Conservative Congresswoman, Jo Ann Davis, and both Republican Senators are behind this feel good legislation which is racist to the core.

It requires a racial census to determine who is one-eighth Indian from the six tribes.

It provides benefits and privileges based on race. The fact that other enjoy racist, humanity and identity by group rights, doesn’t make right to do it again.

Especially, since Virginia’s Indians have assimilated and become Virginians and Americans since about 1700. If 300 years is not long enough to become fully American, then when, if ever, is it enough.

The tribes today may have wonderful conservative Republican leaders who don’t want casinos. But, this legislation opens the door to future leaders. Moreover, the day the legislation is passed a new soveriegn government exists in counties in Virginia which must be consulted on public policy and law. The day it passes a Virginia Indian can open a tax free liquor, cigarette, you name it store in any county designated as ‘reservation’.

My wife is one-sixteenth Indian. We deserve nothing special based on bloodline.

Craft new legislation that grants recognition without racism.

Godspeed, Cong. Frank Wolf.

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4 responses to “Indian Recognition or Ransom”

  1. Your story evokes memories of growing up on Martha’s Vineyard. The Vineyard was a county of 100 square miles and a population of around 4000 when I was growuing up there. It was a fishing and farming community rapidly giving way to tourism. Watching the pressures of growth there and its effects on the inhabitants has largely shaped the opinions I frequently express here. I would probably live there today but for the economic problems of growth.

    I counted among my closest friends those who traced their lineage to the original Wampanoags and to the original English settlers: Gosnolds and Mayhews.

    Over the years the island faced incursions of various sorts. During the whaling years a number of pacific islanders arrived and intermarried with the Wampanoags and the whites.

    As I remember, Amos Smalley was a South sSea Islander/Wampanoag who won a presidential medal for valor in rescuing a number of people from a steamer shipwreck in the 1800’s

    A large influx of Portuguese and Cape Verde islanders also arrived. The Cape Verde Islanders were often Poruguese speaking blacks, and one of my third generation Portuguese friends had an uncle he referred to as “Uncle Blackie”.

    For the most part, one simply didn’t talk about race: it was too complicated. I can remember attending wedding receptions where the audience literally loooked like a rainbow. Even the racial jokes tended to be multracial.

    My father was from old line Boston and his father had a cottage in the Methodist campgrounds in Oak Bluffs. Oak Bluffs was at one time a Methodist revival center and later it became a popular location for middle class black summer families and a year round center of Portuguese culture. When we spent the summers there I frequented a local beach known as the inkwell.

    My mother was from Cherokee County in Tennessee, and counted Cherokee among her ancestors. I used to like to roam areas of Gay Head, now renamed Aquinnah. There was a large parcel of moor and beach that was owned by a man named Hornblower, a Wampanoag who may have owed his name to some whaling connection. His land later became the estate of Jaqueline Onassis, at which time it was posted and patrolled against urchins such as myself.

    The Wampanoags lost heir tribal standing in the 1800’s, as there were almost no purebloods left, but they regained it in the early 1990’s, hence the renaming of Gay Head to the earlier name of Aquinnah.

    I became enamored of an Aquinnah girl. Her heritge would be described in Spanish as mezcla, a word that means mixed, but without the racial connotations of the english word. The color of her skin was indescribable. It was at once fair and clear with overtones of cafe-au-lait and copper. Whatever mezcla she had, she had the best of: the timelessness of her indian ancestors, the gayety and song of her Portuguese ancestors, the statuesque figure and grace of her Polynesian ancestors. Her lips would be the envy of today’s Botox addicts, her nose both aquiline and flared, hair jet oriental black, but curly.

    Imagine my surprise when my mother refused to serve her, when I invited her for dinner. We re-enacted the civil war at my house for several months. At the time I was appalled, upset, and disgusted, but when I later lived in the racially segregated south, I was less shocked than I might have been, and lived with greater understanding, but not sympathy.

    I’m glad the Wampanogs have reclaimed their tribal land. Their cousins on the mainland have one of the most successful casinos in the nation, but I don’t see casinos in their future on Gay Head/Aquinnah.

    Martha’s Vineyard is subjected to one of the most autocratic transportation monopolies in the U. S. The Wood’s Hole, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket Steamship Authority operates similar to proposed highway authorities in Virginia. I highly recommend consideration of its bonds as investments. It charges the highest shipping rates per ton mile in the nation, with the result that most everything on the Vineyard costs 10 to 25% more than on the mainland.

    I have suggested the Wampanoags use their new soveriegn status to build a freight dock near Menemsha and compete with the state sanctioned monopoly. I’m pretty sure it would save Vineyard residents a lot of money, and it would be a way to capitalize on the growth that has impoverished them.

  2. Looking back on my life on Martha’s Vineyard, it seems as foreign to me as Greece. There I roamed vast tracts of vacant land and beaches. We lived in a modest rental home: $150 amonth in 1974. My next door neighbor was among the last survivors of those who had sailed square riggers around Cape Horn. My second neighbor was editor of the New York Times. My brother delivered groceries and collected garbage from celebrities.

    Looking forward from here in Delaplane, history looks as familiar as my slippers. Vast tracts of land are now controlled by owners associations; beaches are patrolled and parking permits are required. In the face of impossible economics, old landowners were restricted to impossibly large lot sizes in the name of conservation.

    Those that were politically connected were able to arrange sweatheart deals. Those that held out were eventually acquired, like Hornblower, at a relative pittance. The heirs of others were forcibly subdivided disadvantageously by the IRS. Today the billionairs are purchasing lots subsequently subdivided by the millionaires.

    Meanwhile, members of the Aquinnah tribe and other locals are known to live well as caretakers in the winter. In summer they sleep in the open, keep their belongings in storage lockers and shower in public facilities before reporting to their service jobs.

    When I read stories of NOVA workers living in their Winnebagos, it all seems eerily familiar.

  3. NOVA Scout Avatar

    I’ve always enjoyed and appreciated Ray Hyde’s contributions in this space. I’ve learned a lot and thought a lot as a result of his comments. This latest addition on growing up on Martha’s Vineyard just adds to that positive impression. And thanks to JAB for the original post.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    Could the threat of competition to, as Ray Hyde sez, “the state sanctioned monoply” be behind the government’s eagerness to scrap the historic S S Nobska?

    The Nobska remains trapped in the Charlestown Navy Yard’s dry-dock, her restoration partially complete. The National Park Service wants the Nobska scrapped, freeing up the dry-dock, should the USS Constitution become target of a terrorist attack. The wounded Old Ironsides would be broughtinto the freed up dry-dock.


    The New England Steamship Foundation, former owners, recognizing that the Nobska is the last steel steamship on the East Coast, submitted the Nobska to the National Trust’s “America’s Eleven Top Endangered Historic Place.” The results are to be announced in mid May. For some reason, the National Parks Service seems to want the Nobska to “disappear” to the cutter’s torch before the Top Eleven can be announced.

    Why would that be?

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