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U.S. Grants Federal Recognition To Pamunkey Indian Tribe


Today the federal government granted recognition to the Pamunkey Indian tribe of Virginia. Its members encountered the first permanent English settlers some 400 years ago, and as NPR's Brian Naylor reports, the tribe had long-sought the recognition.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: The Pamunkey tribe counts just over 200 members, about a quarter of whom live on the tribe's reservation near Richmond. The announcement by the Bureau of Indian Affairs that it would recognize the tribe is the culmination of a lengthy legal battle. Chief Kevin Brown is says it means vindication.

CHIEF KEVIN BROWN: With all the different groups trying to - over the, you know, centuries, trying to, you know, use paper genocide against us to try to erase us from the historic records just finally, you know, gives us final vindication for a Virginia tribe that we passed all the criteria that all the western tribes, you know, meet, and we're not second-class Indians anymore.

NAYLOR: It's the first Virginia tribe to be recognized by the federal government, and it's taken a while. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus were opposed because of a now repealed tribal ban on interracial marriages, and MGM Resorts opposed recognition because the company is building a new casino in Maryland across the Potomac River from Virginia and fears the Pamunkey might build their own gambling facility. Chief Brown says it's a possibility, but that's down the road.

BROWN: It gives us the opportunity to take a look at that. We'll be what they call gaming eligible, but that's a separate process. It's a long, involved process, but I'm sure, you know, we're going to take a look at that.

NAYLOR: Federal recognition means that tribal members will qualify for federal funds for housing, education and health care. The Pamunkey tribe counts Pocahontas among its members. The Pamunkeys were part of the Powhatan Confederacy, a group of several tribes of that provided food to the early colonists. Other Virginia tribes are also seeking federal recognition. In a statement, Virginia's two U.S. senators say those tribes faced barriers to recognition despite their role in American history, and called recognition of the Pamunkey an important step toward righting this wrong. Chief Brown says there will be a celebration this weekend.

BROWN: We have a 4th of July picnic planned already, and so I'm sure this'll just make it a little bit better. Yeah, yeah, this is just a happy day on the reservation.

NAYLOR: It's just the second time the Obama administration has granted recognition to a tribe. The Pamunkey will join the 566 tribes now recognized by the government. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.

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