Nottoway State Recognition Won’t Happen This Legislative Session

The Tidewater News
Thursday, Feb. 9, 2006

By Don Koralewski

Franklin — There will be no recognition for the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian Tribe coming out of this year’s session of the General Assembly.

Sen. Louise Lucas, who introduced a Senate Joint Resolution that would provide state recognition of the tribe, has pulled the legislation from consideration. The resolution had gone to the Senate Committee on Rules, and was given to a subcommittee for further consideration.

While in subcommittee, the resolution attracted condemnation from certain opponents. According to Lucas, the resolution’s survival seemed destined to one of two fates — to be stricken or removed from legislative consideration, or to be “passed by” indefinitely. From the feedback she was getting from the subcommittee, Lucas said she acted to preserve the possibility of the resolution and General Assembly recognition in the next legislative session.

At issue, according to Lucas, is the Virginia Council on Indians. According to the Code of Virginia (§ 2.2-2629), the Virginia Council on Indians “shall establish criteria for tribal recognition and shall recommend to the General Assembly and the Governor in its biennial report those groups meeting the criteria that should be given official state recognition.”

The body, comprised of members from already recognized tribes, non-tribal members, and at-large members, was established in the early 1980s in order to serve as a recommending body for the Generaly Assembly. While Native Americans aren’t required to go through the council for recognition, the Council was set up as part of the vetting process to make recommendations one way or another before such an issue gets to the General Assembly.

In the case of the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway), consideration for recognition went directly to the General Assembly via Sen. Lucas. The VCI was bypassed.

Bypassing the VCI isn’t out of the norm, or necessarily improper, according to one VCI member.  Buck Woodard is an Indian Member At-Large.

Woodard, a Native American himself, said he respects the sovereignity of tribes, and the way a tribe would seek recognition is up to the tribe and its particular circumstances.

As for the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway), Woodard said he understands there are circumstances that tribe members feel make the tribe distinct. Particularly, that the tribe can produce documentation that shows local recognition. For example, Walt Brown, elected chief of the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway), has provided court records dating back to the 19th century in which a judge in Southampton County made an award to the tribe.

In addition, Southampton County Supervisors approved and forwarded a resolution in support of the tribe to senators for their consideration in officially recognizing the tribe.

“If they want to do this,” Woodard said, “the council can’t have position on this one way or another.”

The VCI itself hasn’t taken a position on tribal recognition, nor would it be proper for it to take a position as a council on this particular matter. Since the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) didn’t go to the council, the council can’t make a recommendation.

However, the effort for recognition through the General Assembly, was met with objection from some members of other recognized tribes, and by an anthropologist with a long association with the VCI.

According to Brown, the only information that got to the subcommittee was negative input from a handful of people. Articles associated with support for the resolution, history of the tribe, and historical documentation, didn’t get to the senate committe or subcommittee.

That being the case, Brown made the rounds to senate offices in Richmond on Tuesday, delivering additional information to subcommittee members. He said he’d be pleased if the resolution could be revived.

Barring that, Brown is preparing for a formal presentation of a request for tribal recognition to the VCI.

According to Sen. Lucas, the chairman of the Senate Rules Committee directed that the matter be referred to the VCI. Once the VCI has received and reviewed the application and documentation of the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway), Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr., (R), Williamsburg, has stated the issue will be revisited.

“Sen. Norment has said the resolution couldn’t come out of the Rules Committee because the criteria of the VCI has not be followed,” said Lucas.

Brown said Sen. Norment has assured him that the matter would come back to the General Assembly, whether or not the VCI makes a recommendation.

For the senators as well as the legislative watchers, the issue is a relatively confusing one. The General Assembly created the VCI itself in order to vet requests for tribal recognition before those requests get to the assembly. However, there is no law stating that vetting before the VCI is a mandate. Brown’s contention is that since his tribe has a long established history with local governmental bodies and has been recognized since Colonial days, there isn’t the need for VCI involvement.

Besides, Brown said, six of the already recognized tribes in the state were recognized without going through the VCI process.

The tribe, Brown said, will follow Sen. Norment’s direction and make a formal applicaton to the VCI. No matter what comes of that process, Brown said, he expects that the issue will come back to the floor of the Generaly Assembly.