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Federal Government Holds 1,800 Sets Of Virginia Indian Remains

10:21 PM, Jun 14, 2013   |    comments
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INDIAN NECK, VIRGINIA (WUSA9) -- WUSA9 takes a look at the standoff between some of Virginia's Indian Tribes and our federal government.

Six tribes in the state have been fighting for federal recognition for years, including the Rappahannock Indians. 

Federal recognition would mean access to affordable health care for their elders, the chance to compete for federal education grants and as the return of critical parts of their history.

The home of the Rappahannock tribe is deep in the rural landscape of Indian Neck, Virginia-northeast of Richmond. It's a place so quiet, you can actually hear the leaves rustle through the trees and the water coursing down a local stream.

But now, that tranquility has given way to a steady, increasingly fervent call for recognition by the federal government. As tax-paying residents of Virginia, the Rappahannock Indians have been waging this battle since 1999.

"It's our very birthright," said  Anne Richardson, the Chief of the Rappahannock tribe. "You were born a certain way to a certain family with a certain lineage. Would you want to have that taken away from you?" 

The Rappahannock and other Native American tribes have gained recognition from state, but not the federal government. And that's meant the tribes have been torn from key parts of their own history.

The Rappahannock Tribe and five others in the state of Virginia want the Smithsonian to return the remains of their ancestors, along with other historic tribal artifacts. But the Smithsonian is under no obligation to do so, or even reveal what's in its collection, unless the tribes are federally recognized. 

The Smithsonian acknowledges it has Native American remains from every state in the country. 1,800 sets of remains are from Virginia. The Rappahannock tribe wants them removed from their storage in government warehouses in the D.C. suburbs and brought to their homeland, for a proper burial in this Rappahannock Indian cemetery.

"Where they can be revered and honored for the sacrifices that they made for their people. And we can't do that if we don't have federal recognition," said Chief Richardson.

Virginia's Indians have endured a turbulent history.

Adds Chief Richardson, "I grew up in the house with tribal leadership my entire life. I ate, slept and breathed tribal affairs."

Led by a modern chief-the first woman to lead the Rappahannock since 1705, they are determined to reclaim what is theirs, and add to the photographs and historic artifacts in their modest collection. 

So why the holdup in granting the Virginia tribes federal recognition? Money. A Congressional Budget Office report estimates it would cost $65 Million dollars over five years to implement the legislation. By the way, there's a clear provision in the bill that there will NOT be gaming on Indian land in Virginia.

By the way, the Smithsonian has already repatriated almost 6,000 remains to federally recognized tribes since 1989. A group of Virginia lawmakers is sponsoring a bill that would formally recognize six Virginia tribes. In years past, similar measures have passed the House, but never made it through the Senate.

Written by Andrea McCarren, WUSA9

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