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Welcome to Sovereignty

by Allen Stephenson

Today we welcome six new tribes into Haskell Indian Nations University as they gain
Federal recognition! The six tribes in question The Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy,
Upper Mattaponi, Rappahannock, Monacan, and Nansemond of the Virginia commonwealth
have been fighting for their status for the past two decades. This outcome was achieved by
Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2017 which was
passed in the House of Representatives in May of 2017 and again by the Senate in January 2018.
As we welcome these tribes into their newly acquired status we should reflect on why this is
important.
Sovereignty is integral to the success and future of any and every tribe currently residing
in American or it’s many and varied territories. Why is it important you ask? It’s important
because Federal acknowledgement or recognition means the United States government
recognizes the right of an Indigenous tribe to exist as a sovereign entity. There are still a plethora
of terms and stipulations that come along with Native Sovereignty and rules we must follow and
hoops to jump through, but Federal Recognition is the first step to giving ourselves agency with
the government of the United States.
Federal recognition of Indian tribes is also similar to the diplomatic recognition that the
United States extends to foreign nations. When a tribe is federally recognized, it has the right to
establish a tribal government and enter into agreements with the federal government in much the
same way the federal government makes agreements with Canada and Mexico.

Tribes without federally recognized status do not share these same benefits and have
historically suffered greatly at the loss of recognition, the Menominee are a prime example. The
Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act will allow tribes to
Compete for educational programs and other grants only open to federally recognized tribes.
Repatriate the remains of their ancestors in a respectful manner. Many of these remains reside in
the Smithsonian, but without federal status there is no mandate to return the remains.
Provide affordable health care services for elder tribal members who have been unable to access
care.
Overall the lives and political power of these Virginia Natives will grow stronger and
help promote self-governance within Indian country. This is a win, this is a cause for celebration,
and this is a people returning home after fighting the good fight for many years. The battle may
be won, but the war is far from over, remember where you came from.

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