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First VA Native American Tribe Federally Recognized, Others Next?

Amherst County, VA - The first Native American tribe in Virginia finally got federal recognition.

It give a renewed sense of hope to other Native American tribes in Virginia, including the Monacan Indians.

The spiritual sounds of the Monacan Indian Nation aren't heard on this day.This day is observed silently for another tribe: the Pamunkey Indian Tribe.

"To me," says Monacan chief Dean Branham," it's a great day in Virginia for all Virginia Indians.

The Department of Interior granted federal recognition to the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, a nation known for its ancestor Pocahontas, and the first tribe in Virginia to receive that designation.

Six others are hoping for the same federal status, including a tribe in our backyard.

"I would love to see it soon. It's just right now we're waiting on Congress," said Branham.

The six Virginian Indian Nations began seeking recognition through an Act of Congress nearly two decades ago. The House bill states that the Tribe and its members "shall be eligible for all services and benefits provided by the Federal Government", such as medical care, housing and education. Virginia Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner co-sponsor the Senate bill. Kaine shares in the sentiment, "Today's announcement is an important step toward righting this historical wrong."

It's a sentiment shared by late-Monacan chief Sharon Bryant and current leadership to fully recognize their 125-acres of land and 2,300 members.

"I will always until the end of my days fight for federal recognition, because it is our birthright," said Bryant in an interview with ABC 13 in 2011.

"It's owed to us," said Branham. "It's a right."

Besides federal spending for medical care, housing and education, this designation allows for the Pamunkey tribe to look at building a casino. According to the AP, however, the tribe says they have no plans for one. If Congress passes the bill to recognize the Monacans, casinos and gaming are prohibited.

More reaction is pouring in from state leaders on the historic decision. Gov. Terry McAuliffe weighed in with this.

"I want to congratulate members of the Pamunkey tribe on their tireless efforts to ensure that they receive the federal recognition that they deserve," read the governor's statement. "I look forward to continuing to work with this Administration and our Virginia Congressional Delegation to ensure that the six other Virginia tribes will soon receive the federal recognition that is long-overdue."

The Pamunkey tribe is now one of 566 other federally recognized tribes across the nation.

Full statement from Governor Terry McAuliffe on federal recognition to Pamunkey Indian Tribe:

"This is a historic day in Virginia. I want to congratulate members of the Pamunkey tribe on their tireless efforts to ensure that they receive the federal recognition that they deserve. I look forward to continuing to work with this Administration and our Virginia Congressional Delegation to ensure that the six other Virginia tribes will soon receive the federal recognition that is long-overdue. I hope this is a positive step in enacting the bipartisan Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act, legislation that would grant federal recognition to six Virginia tribes: the Chickahominy, the Eastern Chickahominy, the Upper Mattaponi, the Rappahannock, the Monacan and the Nansemond. These tribes have received official recognition from the Commonwealth of Virginia but have not yet received federal recognition."

Full statement from U.S. Senator Mark Warner:

"I congratulate the Pamunkey Indian Tribe on finally receiving this long-overdue federal recognition. This historic milestone also reminds us of the work that remains before us to correct the injustices committed against Virginia Indian tribes. Senator Kaine and I will keep urging our colleagues in the Senate to pass our legislation to ensure that the Chickahominy Indian Tribe, the Chickahominy Indian Tribe--Eastern Division, the Upper Mattaponi Tribe, the Rappahannock Tribe, the Monacan Indian Nation, and the Nansemond Indian Tribe also get the federal recognition that they deserve."

Full statement from U.S. Senator Tim Kaine:

"I'm thrilled the Pamunkey will finally receive the federal recognition they deserve. Federal recognition both honors the Pamunkey's identity and makes its members eligible for well-earned benefits including housing, education and health-care funding. The Pamunkey are the first Virginia Indian tribe to receive federal recognition, over 400 years after making contact with the first European settlers. Despite the integral role the tribes played in American history and the unique cultures they have continued to maintain for thousands of years, they have faced barriers to recognition due to extraordinary circumstances out of their control. Today's announcement is an important step toward righting this historical wrong, and I'm optimistic that the federal government's decision to recognize the Pamunkey will spur Congress to act on our bill that seeks long-overdue recognition for six other Virginia tribes - the Chickahominy, the Eastern Chickahominy, the Upper Mattaponi, the Rappahannock, the Monacan and the Nansemond."

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