Sunday, November 30, 2014
Several members of the Congressional Black Caucus are urging the Obama administration to withhold federal recognition of a Virginia Indian tribe over its history banning intermarriage with African-Americans
In January 2014, the US Department of the Interior proposed recognizing the Pamunkey tribe in southeast Virginia, which would make members eligible to receive special benefits in education, housing, and medical care, as well as allow the tribe to pursue a casino. A decision on recognition, which would be the first for a Virginia tribe, is due by March 30, 2014. Congressional Black Caucus members urged interior secretary Sally Jewell and attorney general Eric Holder to hold off the decision until the Justice Department investigates any discriminatory practices by the tribe. Neither department has responded to the request, made in a September 23, 2014 letter, according to a spokeswoman for Mississippi Democrat Bennie Thompson, who signed the letter. The letter cited a report by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs that quoted tribal law: “No member of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe shall intermarry with anny [sic] Nation except White or Indian under penalty of forfeiting their rights in Town.” The bureau said that there was no indication the tribe had changed its ban, but Pamunkey chief Kevin Brown responded in a letter to the CBC that the ban had been repealed in 2012. The Bureau of Indian Affairs said that the significant number of Pamunkey-Pamunkey marriages and efforts to encourage them helped satisfy a criterion for federal recognition: that a predominant portion of the group comprises a distinct community and has existed as one from historical times to the present. The Congressional Black Caucus called the government findings disturbing. “The BIA seems to justify the discrimination and surprisingly cites this as a reason” [to recognize the tribe], their letter said. In addition to Thompson, the letter was signed by 10 other Democrats.