Pamunkey Indian Tribe in King William County earns preliminary federal recognition

The AACS fears that federally acknowledged tribes will result in competition for stores already located near reservations if a tribe decided to open a similar business on tribal lands.

Brown said because the tribe would not have to charge taxes there is the potential for a store on a reservation to under prices.

Gambling, gaming, or the prospect of casinos has also been a topic explored for when discussing potential federal recognition.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was passed in 1988. It established the National Indian Gaming Commission as a federal agency designed to protect gaming as a form of revenue for tribes, as well as promote economic development for the tribes and ensure that the tribes are the primary beneficiaries of gaming activities.

Brown said the Pamunkey Indian Tribe is not interested in gaming, but wants to make sure the tribe has the same rights and opportunities are any other federally recognized tribe.

“We began actively pursuing federal recognition in 1982 and there was no such thing as Indian casinos back then, so it couldn't have been our motivation,” Brown said.

In addition, Brown said in Virginia gaming operations are a lot harder to establish because even though it would be a right under the federal government, Virginia law is written as such that the state would have to agree upon it as well.

“It’s not the way it used to be,” Brown said. “The process is much harder than most think.”

Potential changes to Federal Acknowledgment Process

Last summer and into early fall, the BIA held a public comment period requesting input on potential changes to the Federal Acknowledgement Process.

“It was too late for us but they are trying to make it much easier,” said Brown, citing that the tribe chose to continue moving forward under the current system rather than wait until new regulations are in place.

“We wish they had done this 10 years ago,” he said. “We were too far into the process and we wanted to continue under the old regulations but hopefully, it will be easier for others in the future.”

Local tribal members and supporters submitted public comment last year to the BIA regarding the federal process.

The Upper Mattaponi Tribe council submitted proposed changes to the process, including establishing 1934 as the year from which a community must prove continued existence.

“There should be a stated presumption that if a Tribe existed in 1934, that Tribe descended from a historical Tribe at the time of contact with non-Indians, shifting the meaning of 'historic' to refer to distinct communities identified as such in 1934,” the council's letter stated.

If new regulations are approved, it could take up to two years before they go into effect.

The Future

There are currently 15 tribes or Indian nations, not all state-recognized, that have submitted letters of intent to the BIA.

Brown said he is hopeful that BIA’s decision to recognize the Pamunkey Tribe will lead to a domino affect and inspire other tribes to fill petitions soon.

“I think it means there is a chance for the other tribes to go through the same process with positive results,” Brown said. “We had some of the same problems with birth certificates that others have also had but the BIA was very considerate. We were allowed to submit back pages of family Bibles, as well as church records in its place. “