After the required year time frame for active consideration the BIA extended its decision three times because of sequestration, employee furloughs, government shutdown, and the holidays.
“There wasn’t much we could do about the extensions,” Brown said. “We waited over 20 years so what was a few more months?”
Benefits of federal recognition
Once a final determination is made, which could take over a year, the Pamunkey Indian Tribes 208 members will be able to apply for a variety of services
“The importance of federal recognition is that we will be able to engage the federal government with a government to government relationship and we will be able to get services from different federal agencies that will come directly to the tribe. We won’t have to go through the state,” Brown said.
“[For example], we were informed that if a storm came through Virginia and hit the reservation pretty hard but it didn’t hit the other surrounding counties very hard, we wouldn’t have to wait for the Governor to declare a state of emergency. As the chief, I could declare a state of emergency and we could receive funds from FEMA directly and wouldn’t have to go through the state,” Brown explained.
In addition, currently, on the reservation, which is located along the shores of the Pamunkey River, it is difficult for residents to build a house. Tribal members do not own their land. The land is held in a state trust.
HUD has a program for those who reside on a reservation for mortgages and loans. When the tribe’s land is moved into a federal trust following recognition, tribal members will be able to receive federal housing funds.
Those funds could help tribal members like Jeff Brown.
Brown’s home on the reservation burnt down over a year ago and without insurance he has not been able to rebuild.
“I lost everything. Fortunately I had built a workshop and I have been able to live there,” he said.
With the help of donations, Jeff Brown was able to make the workshop more livable but he still does not have indoor plumbing.
“It’s pretty hard,” he said. “That will be one of the first programs I will be looking into to reconstruct.”
Tribal members will also be able to apply for services through the BIA’s Indian Health Services program.
Unfortunately, Brown said, currently the closest clinic under the Indian Health Service is in Rockville, South Carolina.
However, if more tribes in Virginia were to become federally recognized, Brown is hopeful a clinic could be opened in the Commonwealth or even on the Pamunkey reservation.
Tribal members will also be able to apply for programs to get extra help for students going to college through the Indian Educational Opportunity Service.
“Those are just a few. There are a whole lot we don’t know but we will be able to attend conferences and workshops to learn more about these programs,” Brown said. “ It’s going to be a huge learning curve right from the start.”
The Pamunkey Indian Tribe is one of three Native American tribes located in King William County.