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updated 5/14/2007 11:08:05 AM ET 2007-05-14T15:08:05

The U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously May 8 in support of a bill that would grant six Virginia Indian tribes federal recognition.

By a voice vote, the House approved the legislation, making it the first time the tribes' bill has received approval from either the House or Senate.

''With today's vote, the Virginia tribes are closer than ever before to gaining their rightful place of honor,'' said Rep. James Moran, who introduced the bill, in a press release. ''The Native Americans who greeted the first English settlers at Jamestown have endured many hardships to get to this point, surviving state-sponsored racism and a brutal repression meant to erase them from the historical record. Today's vote is the arrowhead needed to pierce these long-standing injustices.''

Now the tribes will continue to work with their sponsor, their Senate delegation and the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said Reggie Tupponce, an Upper Mattaponi member and Virginia Tribal Alliance for Life vice president.

''We have had a couple of hearings in the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in previous years, so there is an established record,'' Tupponce said.

The Thomasina E. Jordan Federal Recognition Act would grant federal recognition to the Monacan, Chickahominy, Eastern Division Chickahominy, Rappahannock, Upper Mattaponi and Nansemond tribes.

To satisfy the bill's opponents, who argued the bill would give Virginia tribes access to the Indian Gaming Act, the tribes had to include an amendment that would prohibit them from gaming. Under the bill, Virginia's tribes would be governed by state laws for gaming in the same manner as a municipality or citizen, according to Moran. Currently, Virginia allows ''charitable'' bingo operations, something none of the tribes has pursued.

The House Committee on Natural Resources approved the bill a week earlier, the first time the committee has taken any action on the tribes' federal recognition legislation.

''After 400 years of injustice and discrimination, these tribes have waited long enough - and it is only fitting that the Congress should seize on this opportunity to exercise our Constitutional authority and set right a very horrible wrong,'' said Rep. Nick Rahall, Natural Resources chair, in a press release.

With the House's approval of the bill, Chief Gene Adkins of the Chickahominy Indian Tribe, Eastern Division, said he was elated about the House vote.

''I feel good about it, and I think this is one of the steps we've gotten through, and right now, we're just going to wait and see how the Senate moves on the bill,'' Adkins said.

With the House action, the tribes have moved one step closer to federal recognition, said Chief Barry Bass of the Nansemond Indian Tribe.

''We're tickled,'' Bass said. ''We've been holding our breath and are hoping we can get it through the Senate side.''

As the tribes work with the Senate on the bill, Chief Kenneth Branham of the Monacan Indian Nation said the bill could move in a few directions; the bill could be sent to a committee or it could go to the floor of the Senate for a vote.

''It's a process the bill has to go through, and it's time-consuming,'' Branham said. ''I think the Senate may be a little harder to go through. But getting through the House this early in the year is a good indication that this bill could complete the process this year, and we've never been this far before.''

Although Tupponce ex-pressed relief when the House approved the bill, he said he had mixed feelings.

''At first I don't think I felt anything; we just sat there,'' Tupponce said. ''I thought to myself, 'Is this it, or do we have to jump through another hoop?' I think there was probably an expectation for us to be overjoyed. I can honestly say I felt relief that our bill had passed, but I was deeply saddened that to achieve acknowledgement of our sovereignty, we actually had to give up some of it.

''I have often wondered how people that speak so strongly of their support for American Indians and American Indian sovereignty can so easily decide to diminish those rights.''

© 2013 Indian Country Today. All rights reserved.

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