Thursday, July 13, 2006
Virginia's Native peopleswere the first to have contact and make treaties with Europeans, but, 400 years later, still haven't been recognized by the federal government (Virginia finally gave up its extirpation policy and officially recognized its tribes in 1983). Because of this, they do not have many of the rights (and sovereignty) of federally recognized tribes. As the Jamestown 400th anniversary approaches, Virginia's tribes are stepping up their efforts to get federal recognition.
What difference does federal recognition make? Well, it could have an effect on all of us: protection of the environment. The Mattaponi put up a brave fight to protect the Mattaponi river from being turned into the King William reservoir. Sovereignty, while no guarantee, would probably at least have got them into the US Supreme Court, which denied their petition, and certainly strengthened their bargaining position vis-a-vis the state--only the feds could take their land.