Native American tribes in Virginia
All of the Commonwealth of Virginia used to be Virginia Indian territory, an area estimated to have been occupied by indigenous peoples for more than 12,000 years. Their population has been estimated to have been about 50,000 at the time of European colonization. The various peoples belonged to three major language families: roughly, Algonquian along the coast, Iroquoian in the southern Tidewater region, and Siouan above the fall line. About 30 Algonquian tribes were allied in the powerful Powhatan Paramount Chiefdom, estimated to include 15,000 people at the time of English colonization.
As of 2014, the Commonwealth of Virginia recognizes eleven tribes, who together have more than 5,000 enrolled members. Collectively, they own fewer than 2,000 acres (8.1 km2) of land. Only two of the tribes, the Pamunkey and Mattaponi, retain reservation lands assigned by colonial treaties with the English colonists made in the 17th century. The state established an official recognition process by legislation.
Federal legislation is being considered that would provide recognition to six of Virginia's non-reservation tribes. Hearings established that they would meet the federal criteria for continuity and retention of identity as tribes, but they have been disadvantaged by lacking reservations and by state governmental actions that altered records of Indian identification. Some records were destroyed during the American Civil War and earlier conflicts. More recently, in the early decades of the 20th century, state officials changed vital records of birth and marriage while implementing the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 and caused Indian individuals and families to lose documentation of their ethnic identities.
Documentation suggests that the first European explorers in what is now Virginia were Spanish, who landed at two separate places decades before the English founded Jamestown. The Spanish had charted the eastern Atlantic coastline north of Florida by 1525. In 1609, Francisco Fernández de Écija, seeking to deny the English claim, asserted that Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón's failed colony of San Miguel de Gualdape, which lasted only the three months of winter 1526-27, had been near Jamestown. Modern scholars place this first Spanish colony within the US in Georgia.
In 1542, Hernando De Soto first encountered the Chisca, who then lived in southwestern Virginia. In the spring of 1567, the conquistador Juan Pardo, from a base at Fort San Juan, built near the Mississippian culture center of Joara in present-day western North Carolina, sent a detachment under Hernando Moyano de Morales that destroyed the Chisca village of Maniatique, at present-day Saltville, Virginia.
Meanwhile, as early as 1559-60, the Spanish had explored Virginia, which they called Ajacán, from the Chesapeake Bay, while seeking passage to the west. They captured a native, possibly from the Paspahegh or Kiskiack tribe, whom they named Don Luis after baptizing him. They took him to Spain, where he received a Jesuit education. About ten years later, Don Luis returned with missionaries to establish the short-lived Ajacán Mission. Native Americans attacked it in 1571 and killed all the missionaries.
English attempts to settle the Roanoke Colony in 1585-1587 failed. Although the site is located in present-day North Carolina, the English then considered it part of the Virginia territory. They collected much ethnological information about the local Croatan tribe, as well as related coastal tribes extending as far north as the Chesapeake (see picture).
Little can be gleaned about specific native movements in Virginia before the European historical record opens. Even so, archaeological, linguistic and anthropological research has revealed several aspects of their worlds. They shared in the Woodlands and earlier cultures of the region. In addition, contemporary historians have learned to use their oral traditions.
According to the colonial historian William Strachey, Chief Powhatan had slain the weroance at Kecoughtan in 1597, appointing his own young son Pochins as successor there. Powhatan resettled some of that tribe on the Piankatank River. (He annihilated the adult male inhabitants at Piankatank in Fall 1608.)
In 1670 the German explorer John Lederer recorded a Monacan legend. According to their oral tradition, the Monacan, a Siouan-speaking people, settled in Virginia some 400 years earlier by following "an oracle", after being driven by enemies from the northwest. They found the Algonquian-speaking "Tacci" (also known as Doeg) already living there. The Monacan told Lederer they had taught the Tacci to plant maize, but that before then, the Doeg had gathered their food only by fishing and hunting.
Another Monacan tradition holds that, centuries prior to European contact, the Monacan and the Powhatan tribes had been contesting part of the mountains in the western areas of today's Virginia. The Powhatan had pursued a band of Monacan as far as the Natural Bridge, where the Monacan ambushed the Powhatan on the narrow formation, routing them. The Natural Bridge became a sacred site to the Monacan known as the Bridge of Mahomny or Mohomny (Creator). The Powhatan withdrew their settlements to below the fall line of the Piedmont, far to the east along the coast.
Another tradition relates that the Doeg had once lived in the territory of modern King George County, VA. About 50 years before the English arrived at Jamestown (i.e. ca. 1557), they split into three sections, with one part moving to Caroline County, one part moving to Prince William, and a third part remaining in King George.
One expression of the different cultures of the three major language groups was how they constructed their houses, both in style and materials. The Monacan, who spoke a Siouan language, created dome-shaped structures covered with bark and reed mats.
The tribes of the Powhatan Confederacy spoke Algonquian languages, as did many of the Atlantic coastal peoples up into Canada. They lived in houses they called yihakans/yehakins and which the English described as "longhouses". They were made from bent saplings lashed together at the top to make a barrel shape. The saplings were covered with woven mats or bark. The 17th-century historian William Strachey thought since bark was harder to acquire, families of higher status must own bark-covered houses. In summer, when the heat and humidity increased, the people could roll up or remove the mat walls for better air circulation.
Inside a Powhatan house, bedsteads were built along both walls. They were made of posts put in the ground, about a foot high or more, with small cross-poles attached. The framework was about 4 feet (1.2 m) wide, which was covered with reeds. One or more mats was placed on top for bedding, with more mats or skins for blankets. A rolled mat served as a pillow. During the day, the bedding was rolled up and stored so the space could be used for other purposes.
Wildlife was abundant in this area. The buffalo were still plentiful on the Virginia Piedmont up until the 1700s. The Upper Potomac watershed (above Great Falls, Virginia) was once renowned for its unsurpassed abundance of wild geese, earning the Upper Potomac its former Algonquian name, Cohongoruton (Goose River).
In 1607, when the English made their first permanent settlement at Jamestown, Virginia, the area of the current state was occupied by numerous tribes of Algonquian, Siouan, and Iroquoian linguistic stock. Several of the Algonquian tribes were associated with the politically powerful Powhatan Confederacy (alternately Powhatan Chiefdom), whose homeland occupied much of the area east of the fall line along the coast. It spanned 100 by 100 miles (160 km), and covered most of the tidewater Virginia area and parts of the Eastern Shore, an area they called Tsenacommacah. Each of the more than 30 tribes of this Confederacy had its own name and chief (weroance or werowance, female weroansqua). All paid tribute to a paramount chief (mamanatowick) Powhatan, whose personal name was Wahunsenecawh. Succession in the tribe was matrilineal — passed through the mother's side.
Below the fall line, other related Algonquian groups who were not tributary to Powhatan included the Chickahominy and the Doeg in Northern Virginia. The Accawmacke (later Gingaskin) of the Eastern Shore, and the Patawomeck of Northern Virginia, were fringe members of the Confederacy. As they were separated by water from Powhatan's domains, the Accawmacke enjoyed some measure of semi-autonomy under their own paramount chief, Debedeavon, aka "The Laughing King".
The Piedmont and area above the fall line were occupied by Siouan groups, such as the Monacan and Manahoac; Iroquoian peoples of the Cheroenhaka and Meherrin lived in what is now Southside Virginia. The region beyond the Blue Ridge (including West Virginia) was considered part of the sacred hunting grounds. Like much of the Ohio Valley, it had been depopulated by the Five Nations during the later Beaver Wars (1670–1700); its previous occupants are known from French Jesuit maps to have included the Siouan "Oniasont" (Nahyssan) and the Tutelo or "Totteroy," the former name of Big Sandy River — and another name for the Yesan or Nahyssan. (Similarly, the Kentucky River in Kentucky was said to be anciently known as the Cuttawah, i.e., "Catawba" River, while the name still borne by the Kanawha River is held to indicate a former homeland of the Conoy aka Piscataway centuries earlier.)
When the English first established the Virginia Colony, the Powhatan tribes had a combined population of about 15,000. Relations between the two peoples were not always friendly. After Captain John Smith was captured in the winter of 1607 and met with Chief Powhatan, relations were fairly good. Powhatan sent food to the English, and was instrumental in helping the newcomers survive. By the time Smith left Virginia in the fall of 1609, due to a gunpowder accident, relations between the two peoples had begun to sour. Their competition for land and resources led to the First Anglo-Powhatan War.
In April 1613, Captain Samuel Argall learned that Powhatan's "favorite" daughter, Pocahontas was residing in the Patawomeck village. Argall abducted her to force Powhatan to return English prisoners as well as stolen agricultural tools and weapons. Negotiations between the two peoples began. It was not until after Pocahontas converted to Christianity and married the Englishman John Rolfe in 1614 that peace was reached between the two peoples. The peace continued until after Pocahontas died in England in 1617 and her father in 1618.
After Powhatan's death, the chiefdom passed to his brother Opitchapan. His succession was brief and the chiefdom passed to Opechancanough. It was Opecancanough who, on March 22, 1622, planned a coordinated attack on the English settlements. He wanted to punish English encroachments on Indian lands and hoped to run them off. Out of a population of about 1,200, his warriors killed about 350-400 settlers during the attack, known as the Indian massacre of 1622. Jamestown was spared because Chanco, an Indian boy living with the English, warned the English about the impending attack. The English retaliated. Conflicts between the peoples continued for the next 10 years, until a tenuous peace was reached.
In 1644, Opechancanough planned a second attack to turn the English out. Their population had reached about 8,000. His warriors again killed about 350-400 settlers in the attack. It led to the Second Anglo-Powhatan War. In 1646, Opechancanough was captured by the English and a guard — against orders — shot him in the back and killed him. His death began the death of the Powhatan Confederacy. This was cemented in the signing of the first treaty between Opechancanough's successor, Necotowance, and the English in October 1646.
The 1646 treaty delineated a racial frontier between Indian and English settlements, with members of each group forbidden to cross to the other side except by special pass obtained at one of the newly erected border forts. The extent of the Virginia Colony open to patent by English colonists was defined as: All the land between the Blackwater and York rivers, and up to the navigable point of each of the major rivers - which were connected by a straight line running directly from modern Franklin on the Blackwater, northwesterly to the Appomattoc village beside Fort Henry, and continuing in the same direction to the Monocan village above the falls of the James, where Fort Charles was built, then turning sharp right, to Fort Royal on the York (Pamunkey) river.
Necotowance thus ceded the English vast tracts of uncolonized land, much of it between the James and Blackwater. The treaty required the Powhatan to make yearly tribute payment to the English of fish and game, and set up reservation lands for the Indians. All Indians were at first required to display a badge made of striped cloth while in white territory, or they could be murdered on the spot. In 1662, this law was changed to require them to display a copper badge, or else be subject to arrest.
Around the year 1670, Seneca warriors from the New York Iroquois Confederacy conquered the territory of the Manahoac of Northern Piedmont. That year the Virginia Colony had expelled the Doeg from Northern Virginia east of the fall line. With the Seneca action, the Colony became de facto neighbours of part of the Iroquois Five Nations. Although the Iroquois never settled the Piedmont area, they entered it for hunting and raiding against other tribes. The first treaties conducted at Albany between the two powers in 1674 and 1684 formally recognized the Iroquois claim to Virginia above the Fall Line, which they had conquered from the Siouan peoples. At the same time, from 1671 to 1685, the Cherokee seized what are now the westernmost regions of Virginia from the Xualae.
In 1677, following Bacon's Rebellion, the Treaty of Middle Plantation was signed, with more of the Virginia tribes participating. The treaty reinforced the yearly tribute payments, and a 1680 annexe added the Siouan and Iroquioan tribes of Virginia to the roster of Tributary Indians. It allowed for more reservation lands to be set up, and was an acknowledgement that the Virginia Indian leaders were subjects of the King of England.
In 1693 the College of William and Mary officially opened. One of the goals of the college was to educate Virginia Indian boys. Funding from a farm named "Brafferton," in England, were sent to the school in 1691 for this purpose. The funds paid for living expenses, classroom space, and a teacher's pay. Only children of treaty tribes could attend, but at first none sent their children to the colonial school. By 1711, Governor Spotswood offered to remit the tribes' yearly tribute payments if they would send their boys to the school. The incentive worked and that year, the tribes sent twenty boys to the school. As the years passed, the number of Brafferton students decreased. By late in the 18th century, the Brafferton Fund was diverted elsewhere. The College was restricted to ethnic Europeans (or whites) until 1964, when the federal government passed civil rights legislation ending segregation in public facilities.
Among the early Crown Governors of Virginia, Lt. Governor Alexander Spotswood had one of the most coherent policies toward Native Americans during his term (1710–1722), and one that was relatively respectful of them. He envisioned having forts built along the frontier, which Tributary Nations would occupy, to act as buffers and go-betweens for trade with the tribes farther afield. They would also receive Christian instruction and civilization. The Virginia Indian Company was to hold a government monopoly on the thriving fur trade. The first such project, Fort Christanna, was a success in that the Tutelo and Saponi tribes took up residence. But, private traders, resentful of losing their lucrative share, lobbied for change, leading to its break-up and privatization by 1718.
Spotswood then worked to make peace with his Iroquois neighbours, winning a concession from them in 1718, confirmed at Albany in 1721, of all the land they had conquered as far as the Blue Ridge and south of the Potomac. This clause was to be a bone of contention decades later, as it seemed to make the Blue Ridge the new demarcation between the Virginia Colony and Iroquois land, while in fact it technically stated that this mountain range was the border between the Iroquois and the Virginia Colony's Tributary Indians - meaning that in the white colonists' eyes (not being "tributary Indians"), they could still cross them with impunity. This dispute, which first flared in 1736 as Europeans began to settle the Shenandoah Valley, came to a head in 1743 and was finally resolved the next year by the Treaty of Lancaster.
Following this treaty, some dispute remained as to whether the Iroquois had ceded only the Shenandoah Valley, or all their claims south of the Ohio. Moreover, much of this land beyond the Alleghenies was also still disputed by the Shawnee and Cherokee nations. The Iroquois recognised the English right to settle south of the Ohio at Logstown in 1752. The Shawnee and Cherokee claims remained, however. In 1755 the Shawnee, now allied with the French in the French and Indian War, raided an English camp of settlers at Draper's Meadow, now Blacksburg, killing five and abducting five in what is known as the Draper's Meadow Massacre. They also captured Fort Seybert (now in WV) in April, 1758. Peace was reached that October with the Treaty of Easton, where the colonists agreed to establish no further settlements beyond the Alleghenies. Hostilities resumed in 1763 with Pontiac's War, when Shawnee attacks forced colonists to abandon frontier settlements along the Jackson River, as well as the Greenbrier River now in West Virginia, these two valleys on either side of the Allegheny ridge, and the latter just beyond the Treaty of Easton limit. Meanwhile, the Crown's Proclamation of 1763 confirmed all land beyond the Alleghenies as Indian Territory. It attempted to set up a reserve where colonists would be excluded, recognizing native control of this area. Shawnee attacks as far east as Shenandoah County continued for the duration of Pontiac's War, until 1766.
Many colonists considered the Proclamation Line adjusted in 1768 by the Treaty of Hard Labour which demarcated a border with the Cherokee nation running across southwestern Virginia, and by the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, where the Iroquois Six Nations formally sold the British all their claim west of the Alleghenies, and south of the Ohio. However, this region (which included the modern states of Kentucky, and West Virginia, as well as southwestern Virginia) was still populated by the other tribes, including Cherokee, Shawnee, Lenape, Mingoes, who were not party to the sale. The Cherokee border had to be readjusted in 1770 at the Treaty of Lochaber, because actual settlement in Southwest Virginia had already moved past the 1768 Hard Labour line. Still further concessions, extending into Kentucky were made the following year. Meanwhile, the Virginian settlements south of the Ohio (in West Virginia) were still bitterly challenged, particularly by the Shawnee.
The resulting conflict led to Dunmore's War (1774). A series of forts controlled by Daniel Boone began to be built in the valley of the Clinch River during this time. By the Treaty of Camp Charlotte concluding this conflict, the Shawnee and Mingo relinquished their claim south of the Ohio. The Cherokee sold Richard Henderson a portion of their land encompassing extreme southwest Virginia in 1775 as part of the Transylvania purchase. This sale was not recognized by the royal colonial government, nor by the Chickamauga Cherokee chief Dragging Canoe. But, contributing to the Revolution, settlers soon began entering Kentucky by rafting down the Ohio River in defiance of the Crown. In 1776, the Shawnee joined Dragging Canoe's faction in declaring war on the "Long Knives" (Virginians). The chief led Cherokee in a raid on Black's Fort on the Holston River (now Abingdon, Virginia) on July 22, 1776 (see Chickamauga Wars (1776-1794)). Another Chickamauga leader, Bob Benge, also continued to lead raids in the westernmost counties of Virginia during these wars, right up until he was slain in 1794.
In August 1780, having lost ground to the British army in South Carolina fighting, the Catawba Nation fled their reservation and took temporary refuge in an unknown hiding spot in Virginia, possibly the yet-unsettled mountainous region around Catawba, Virginia in Roanoke County. They remained there in safety around nine months, until American general Nathanael Greene led them home to South Carolina, the British having again quit that region.
In summer, 1786, a Cherokee hunting party fought a pitched two day battle with a Shawnee one at the headwaters of the Clinch in present day Wise County, Virginia. It was a victory for the Cherokee although losses were heavy on both sides. This was the last battle between these tribes within the present limits of Virginia.
Throughout the 18th century, several tribes in Virginia lost their reservation lands. Shortly after 1700, the Rappahannock tribe lost its reservation; the Chickahominy tribe lost theirs in 1718, and the Nansemond tribe sold theirs in 1792. After losing their reservations, these tribes faded from the public record. Some of their landless members intermarried with other ethnic groups and became assimilated. Others maintained ethnic and cultural identification despite intermarriage. In their matrilineal kinship systems, children of Indian mothers were considered born into her clan and family, and Indian regardless of their fathers. By the 1790s, most of the surviving Powhatan tribes had converted to Christianity, and spoke only English.
During this period, ethnic Europeans continued to push the Virginia Indians off the remaining reservations and end their status as tribes. By 1850, one of the reservations was sold to the whites, and another reservation was officially divided by 1878. Many Virginia Indian families held onto their lands into the 20th century. The only two tribes to resist the pressure and hold onto their reservations were the Pamunkey and Mattaponi tribes. These two tribes still maintain their reservations today.
After the Civil War, the reservation tribes began to reclaim their cultural identities and to improve their image in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The main message they wanted to get across was that Powhatan Indian descendants had maintained their identity and were proud of their heritage.
In the early 20th century, many Virginia Indians began to reorganize into official tribes. They were opposed by Walter Ashby Plecker, the head of the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Virginia (1912–1946). Plecker was a white supremacist and a follower of the eugenics movement. He wanted to keep the white "master race" "pure." He believed there were few "true" Virginia Indians left, since, according to his terms, Indians of mixed race could not qualify. He did not understand that Indians had a long practice of intermarriage and absorbing other peoples into their cultures. Their children may have been of mixed race but they identified as Indian. Plecker signed off on the Interior Department taking of Indian lands of the Ani-Stohini/Unami between 1907 and 1913, saying that there were no Indians left in Virginia. The U.S. Department of the Interior accepted some of these "non Indians" as representing all of them when persuading them to cede lands.
In 1924, Virginia passed the Racial Integrity Act, one of a series of laws passed by states to regulate racial relations. The 1924 law institutionalized the "one-drop rule", defining as black an individual with any known black/African ancestry. This was a much more stringent definition than had prevailed legally during the 18th and 19th centuries. Before the Civil War, a person could legally qualify as white who had up to one-quarter (equivalent to one grandparent) African or Indian ancestry. In addition, many court cases dealing with racial identity in the antebellum period were decided on the basis of community acceptance, which usually followed how a person looked and acted, whether they fulfilled community obligations, rather than analysis of ancestry, which most people did not know in detail anyway.
A holdover from the slavery years and Jim Crow, the act prohibited marriage between whites and non-whites, and recognized only the terms of "white" and "colored" (related to ethnic African ancestry). Plecker was a strong proponent for the Act. He wanted to ensure that blacks were not "passing" as Virginia Indians, in his terms. Plecker directed local offices to use only the designations of "white" or "colored" on birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates, voter registration forms, etc. He further directed them to evaluate some specific, named families and change the classification of their records, saying he believed they were black and trying to pass as Indian.
During Plecker's time, many Virginia Indians and African Americans left the state to escape its segregationist strictures. Others tried to fade into the background until the storm passed. Plecker's "paper genocide" dominated state recordkeeping for more than two decades, but declined after he retired in 1946. It destroyed much of the documentation that had shown families continuing to identify as Indian.
The Racial Integrity Act was not repealed until 1967, after the ruling of the US Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, which stated anti-miscegenation laws were unconstitutional. In the ruling the court stated: "The freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race lies with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State."
In the late 1960s, two Virginia Indian tribes applied for federal recognition through the BAR under the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Ani-Stohini/Unami first petitioned in 1968 and the Rappahannock filed shortly thereafter. The B.I.A. later told tribal leaders that they had lost the Ani-Stohini/Unami petition and blamed the American Indian Movement takeover of the Interior Building in 1968, during which many documents were lost. The Rappahannock tribe was recognized by the State of Virginia. Today, at least 13 unrecognized tribes in Virginia have petitioned for federal recognition.
With the repeal of the Racial Integrity Act, individuals were allowed to have their birth certificates and other records changed to note their Indian identity (rather than black or white), but the state government charged a fee. After 1997, when Delegate Harvey Morgan's bill HB2889 passed to correct this injustice, any Virginia Indian who had been born in Virginia could have his or her records changed for free to note identity as Virginia Indian.
In the 1980s, the state officially recognized several tribes in a process authorized under legislation. The tribes had struggled to be recognized, against issues of racial discrimination. Because of their long history of interaction with European Americans, only two tribes had retained control of reservation lands established during the colonial period. Their "landless" condition added to their difficulty in documenting historic continuity of their people, as outsiders assumed that without a reservation, they simply assimilated to the majority culture. Another three tribes were recognized by the state in 2010.
The population of Powhatan Indians today in total is estimated to be about 8,500–9,500, though only about 3,000–3,500 are enrolled tribal members; in addition, the Monacan Nation's tribal membership is about 2,000.
The organized tribes, which developed from kinship and geographic communities, establish their own requirements for membership, as well as what they consider its obligations. Generally, members must pay dues; attend tribal meetings (which are usually monthly in the "home" areas); volunteer to serve as a tribal officer when asked; help to put on tribal events; belong to the tribal church (if one exists and they are able); teach their children their people's history and pass on traditional crafts; volunteer to represent the tribe at the Virginia Council on Indians, the United Indians of Virginia, or at other tribes' powwows; speak at engagements for civic or school groups; and live in a good way, so as to best represent their tribe and Native Americans in general. Most Indian tribes maintain some traditions from before the time of European settlement, and are keen to pass these on to their children. Although Indians are also highly involved in non-native culture and employment, they regularly engage in activities for their individual tribes, including wearing regalia and attending powwows, heritage festivals, and tribal homecomings. Individuals try to maintain a balance between elements of their traditional culture and participating in the majority culture..
The Pamunkey and the Mattaponi are the only tribes in Virginia to have maintained their reservations from the 17th-century colonial treaties. These two tribes continue to make their yearly tribute payment to the Virginia governor, as stipulated by the 1646 and 1677 treaties. Every year around Thanksgiving they hold a ceremony to pay the annual tribute of game, usually a deer, and pottery or a "peace pipe."
Tribes recognized by Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia passed legislation in 2001 to develop a process for state recognition of Native American tribes within the state.
As of 2010, the state has recognized a total of 11 tribes, eight of them related to historic tribes that were members of the Powhatan paramountcy. The state also recognizes the Monacan Nation, the Nottoway, and the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway), who were outside the paramountcy. Descendants of several other Virginia Indian and Powhatan-descended tribes still live in Virginia and other locations.
- Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian Tribe. Letter of Intent to Petition 12/30/2002. Receipt of Petition 12/30/2002. State recognized 2010; in Courtland, Southampton County. (See section on Unrecognized tribes).
- Chickahominy Tribe. Letter of Intent to Petition 03/19/1996. State recognized 1983; in Charles City County. In 2009, Senate Indian Affairs Committee endorsed a bill that would grant federal recognition.
- Chickahominy Indians, Eastern Division (a.k.a. Eastern Chickahominy Indian Tribe). Letter of Intent to Petition 9/6/2001. State recognized, 1983; in New Kent County. In 2009, Senate Indian Affairs Committee endorsed a bill that would grant federal recognition.
- Mattaponi Tribe (a.k.a. Mattaponi Indian Reservation). Letter of Intent to Petition 04/04/1995. State recognized 1983; in Banks of the Mattaponi River, King William County. The Mattaponi and Pamunkey have reservations based in colonial-era treaties ratified by the Commonwealth in 1658. Pamunkey Tribe's attorney told Congress in 1991 that the tribes state reservation originated in a treaty with the crown in the 17th century and has been occupied by Pamunkey since that time under strict requirements and following the treaty obligation to provide to the Crown a deer every year, and they've done that (replacing Crown with Governor of Commonwealth since Virginia became a Commonwealth)
- Monacan Indian Nation (formerly Monacan Indian Tribe of Virginia). Letter of Intent to Petition 07/11/1995. State recognized 1989; in Bear Mountain, Amherst County. In 2009, Senate Indian Affairs Committee endorsed a bill that would grant federal recognition.
- Nansemond Indian Tribal Association, Letter of Intent to Petition 9/20/2001. State recognized 1985; in Cities of Suffolk and Chesapeake. In 2009, Senate Indian Affairs Committee endorsed a bill that would grant federal recognition.
- Nottoway of Virginia (Nottoway Indian Tribe), recognized 2010; in Capron, Southampton County.
- Pamunkey Nation, recognized 1983; in Banks of the Pamunkey River, King William County.
- Patawomeck Indians of Virginia recognized 2010; in Stafford County.
- Rappahannock Indian Tribe (I) (formerly United Rappahannock Tribe). Letter of Intent to Petition 11/16/1979. State recognized 1983; in Indian Neck, King & Queen County. In 2009, Senate Indian Affairs Committee endorsed a bill that would grant federal recognition.
- An unrecognized tribe, Rappahannock Indian Tribe (II), also uses this name, and is referred to as II.
- Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe (formerly Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribal Association). Letter of Intent to Petition 11/26/1979. State recognized 1983; in King William County. In 2009, Senate Indian Affairs Committee endorsed a bill that would grant federal recognition.
In 2009 the governor established a Virginia Indian Commemorative Commission, to develop a plan to run a competition for a monument to be located in Capitol Square to commemorate Native Americans in the state. Some elements have been developed, but the statue has not yet been installed.
Several groups located in Virginia who do not have state recognition (see below) are seeking it.
Various bills before Congress have proposed granting federal recognition for the six Virginia Tribes. Recent sponsors of such Federal recognition bills have been Senator George Allen, R-Va and Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va. These bills would grant federal recognition to the Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Upper Mattaponi, Rappahannock and Nansemond Tribes, and Monacan Indian Nation. These are six non-reservation tribes whose members have demonstrated continuity of community, as noted by state recognition. Federal recognition of these tribes would compensate for some of the historic injustices they suffered under Virginia government, and recognize their continuing identities as Virginia Indians and American citizens.
On May 8, 2007, the US House of Representatives passed a bill extending federal recognition to the six tribes mentioned above. It was not passed by the Senate. The bill died in the Senate.
On March 9, 2009 the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2009 was sent to the House Committee on Natural Resources. Hearings for the bill were heard before the committee on March 18, 2009 and on April 22, 2009, the committee referred the bill to the US House of Representatives. On June 3, 2009, the House approved the bill and the following day it was introduced in the Senate, where it was read twice and referred to the Committee on Indian Affairs, which approved the bill on October 22. On December 23, 2009 the bill was placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar under general orders. This is the furthest the bill has gotten in the Congressional process.
The bill has a hold on it placed for "jurisdictional concerns." Senator Tom Coburn (R-Ok.) believes that requests for tribal recognition should be processed through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a process the Virginia tribes cannot use because of the destruction of records under Walter Plecker. The hold prevented the bill from reaching the Senate floor, and it died with the end of the Congressional session.
The two reservation tribes, the Pamunkey and Mattaponi, are not part of the federal recognition bill. They are trying to get federal recognition through applying to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, under current regulations and administrative process.
On February 17, 2011, two bills that would grant the six Virginia Indian tribes federal recognition were introduced in the 112th Congress, one in the Senate (S.379) and one in the House of Representatives (H.R.783). The Senate bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. The House bill was referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources, who referred it to the Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs on February 25.
On July 28, 2011, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs ordered the Senate version of the bill "to be reported without amendment favorably."
The following groups identify as tribes but have not been recognized by the state. Some have also applied for federal recognition. The federally recognized Cherokee Nation and Eastern Band of Cherokee jointly oppose the recognition of the many groups claiming Cherokee descent, such as those indicated below, which they identify as fraudulent. This with the exception of the Ani-Stohini/Unami, which has never been on any such list and whose tribal language of Tla Wilano is listed as an Algonquin family language related to the Delaware language dialects (See also Unami).
- Ani-Stohini/Unami Nation. Letter of Intent to Petition 07/08/1994.
- Appalachian Cherokee Nation.
- Buffalo Ridge Cherokees.
- Cherokee of Virginia Birdtown.
- Free Cherokees Spider Clan.
- Inagel Tsalagi, Cherokee of Virginia.
- Northern Tsalagi Indian Nation.
- Rappahannock Indian Tribe (II). Letter of Intent to Petition 01/31/2001. Shares a name with a State recognized tribe Rappahannock Indian Tribe (I).
- Southern Cherokee Confederacy, Pine Log Clan.
- Turtle Band of Cherokee.
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