Pamunkey Indian Tribe in King William County earns preliminary federal recognition

KING WILLIAM – A new chapter in the centuries-long history of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe has begun.

Tribal officials learned Friday that the Pamunkey will soon join the 566 other tribal nations across the country that are recognized by the federal government, a feat that seemed out of reach for Virginia’s Indians for years.

“We have been working towards this point for decades and are very pleased to have received a positive preliminary determination. We look forward to a continuing government-to-government relationship with the United States,” the Pamunkey Chief and Tribal Council said in a joint statement Friday.

“It is very good news,” Chief Kevin Brown added. “It now sets in place a 180-day waiting period for public comment.”

The tribe has been under active consideration by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) since August of 2012.

Brown received the tribe’s preliminary determination by phone Jan. 17 affirming that the petition submitted October 14, 2010, had been approved.

The tribe’s approval will now go under the six-month public comment period before the final determination is officially recorded in the Federal Register.

Federal status opens the door to benefits and services such as housing, health, and education opportunities. It also gives new hope to several of Virginia’s Indian tribes that have also been seeking federal recognition for years.

“There is a historical justice to it. We just feel we should be treated as an Indian tribe by the federal government and we’re not right now,” Brown said. “We predate the federal government so there’s just no excuse for them not to recognize us as a tribe like England recognizes us a tribe.”

Pamunkey’s journey to acknowledgement

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe initially began the process to earn federal recognition around 1982, Brown said.

At that time, the tribe was working on a petition to file at the BIA with the assistance of the Native American Rights Fund, but Brown said the fund ran out of money and interest waned.

“We went years where we weren’t doing anything,” Brown said.

Then in the 1990s the tribe began working once again with the Native American Rights Fund, which is a non-profit that raises funds through donations, as well as a legal firm in Colorado, Tilden McCoy LLP. Brown said they also received a grant from the Administration for Native Americans (ANA).

The tribe was able to file its letter of intent to petition the BIA in 2009.

“We had really good researchers from the University of Florida,” Brown said.

Researchers were able to draft a petition that documented the Pamunkey Indian Tribe’s history and genealogy dating back to 1787.

“If you’ve lived on a reservation for more than 100 years, you are moved to the front of the line of petitioners,” Brown said.

After responding to the BIA’s request for additional information in 2011, the tribe still had to wait until January of 2012 for its petition to be marked for consideration and then eight more months for active consideration.

“The BIA was very understanding and worked with us throughout the entire process,” Brown said.