Wolf: Report on Tribal Recognition Process Confirms Suspicion

March 1, 2002

Calls on Justice Department to Reevaluate Decision Not to Prosecute Former BIA Officials;
Calls on Interior Department to Submit Legislative Proposals to Remedy Recognition Process

Washington, D.C. — Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) today said that a recently completed report by the Department of the Interior’s inspector general confirms his suspicions that the federal tribal recognition process has been compromised.

“The findings come as no surprise,” Wolf said. “The process is seriously flawed and needs to be changed so the abuses that took place during the Clinton Administration never happen again.

“What went on, particularly in the final months of the Administration, is appalling,” Wolf continued. “The pressure that was put on researchers to come up with positive findings is extremely disconcerting. I am particularly troubled by a statement in the report that ‘physical confrontations’ among staff were a real possibility as BIA officials frantically tried to get approval for two tribes in the waning hours of the Clinton Administration.”

Wolf last year called for a sweeping investigation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) after a series of articles in the Boston Globe raised a number of questions about the actions of two political appointees at the BIA. Federal recognition of a tribe conveys financial benefits and significant rights as a sovereign entity, including federal assistance programs, exemptions from state and local jurisdictions and the ability to establish casino gambling operations.

During the last year of the Clinton Administration, six tribal recognition decisions were made by BIA political appointees that were contrary to the recommendations made by the career staff at the Branch of Acknowledgment and Research (BAR). Kevin Gover, who served as assistant secretary for BIA from January 1997 – January 2001, reversed four BAR decisions between April 2000 and January 2001. Michael Anderson, who became the acting assistant secretary on January 3, 2001, just three weeks before President Clinton was to leave office, reversed two of BAR’s decisions.

Prior to April 2000, “only one determination had ever been issued by an assistant secretary that was contrary to the recommendation of BAR,” the IG report said. The recognition decisions approved by Gover and Anderson have been rescinded by the Bush Administration and are presently being reevaluated.

The report documents that one of the decisions reversed by Anderson was not actually completed until January 22, 2001, the first working day of the Bush Administration. The report details how Anderson had failed to sign all of the paperwork for the tribal recognition of the Duwamish Indians and was called back to main Interior building, where he signed the documents “while sitting in his car outside the building,” the report said. The documents were then returned to the office and back date-stamped, the report said. Anderson has admitted to signing the documents, which was a violation of federal law since he was no longer employed by the federal government.

Wolf has asked Attorney General John Ashcroft to re-evaluate the Department of Justice’s decision not to prosecute BIA officials involved in clear violations of the law.

Wolf also has asked Interior Secretary Gale Norton to submit legislative proposals to Congress which would begin to address the present weaknesses in the tribal recognition process, thereby ensuring that the legitimacy of the process is not compromised. Copies of Wolf’s letters to Ashcroft and Norton are attached.

“I commend the Bush Administration for rescinding the six tribal recognitions which took place in the final days of the Clinton Administration, as it has become increasingly clear that in an unprecedented move, the recommendations of the BAR experts were simply being ignored,” Wolf said.

“I am hopeful that now that we have these abuses documented we can move forward in instituting change, in order to protect the future integrity of the recognition process.”

Editor’s Note: Wolf’s interest in the recognition process stems from the potential for a federally recognized tribe to establish legalized gambling outlets without the approval of any state or local officials. Wolf has long been concerned about the rapid expansion of legalized gambling in America, and the corrupting influence that gambling special interests have had on the political process.

In June 2001, Wolf introduced legislation, H.R. 2244, the Tribal and Local Communities Relationship Improvement Act, which would give state legislatures a voice in the establishment of future gambling operations on Indian reservations, would create a commission to examine U.S. government policy toward Native Americans and require minimum standards to be developed for regulating tribal gambling operations. The legislation is pending consideration in the House Committee on Resource.

Prison’s Race Policy on Religion Struck Down Court Rejects Va. Decision Denying White Inmate Native American Spiritual Items

By Brooke A. Masters, Washington Post Staff Writer
February 9, 2001

Virginia prisoner Gary David Morrison Jr. wanted to practice his religion, so he asked his jailers for access to sacred herbs, medicine bags and feathers — items used in Native American religious ceremonies.

Officials at Greensville Correctional Center turned the convicted murderer down flat because the items are normally banned as personal property. Morrison, 31, didn’t qualify for a Native American religious exemption, they said, because he’s white.

On Wednesday, a federal appeals court struck down that policy as race discrimination.

Although prison officials may have legitimate security concerns about the items, they can’t allow some inmates access to them and not others simply based on their ethnicity, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.

Virginia officials “have failed to demonstrate that the requested spiritual items are any less dangerous in the hands of a Native American inmate, as opposed to a non-Native American inmate who sincerely wishes to practice Native American spirituality,” Judge William B. Traxler Jr. wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel, upholding a U.S. District Court decision.

The decision comes as prisons across the country struggle to balance inmates’ religious rights against the need for secure facilities. Most inmates at Greensville — including Morrison — are serving life terms for violent crimes, and attorneys for the state had argued that herbs and medicine bags can be used to disguise illegal drugs and that feathers are sometimes sharpened into weapons.

David Botkins, spokesman for state Attorney General Mark L. Earley (R), said the office is studying the 19-page decision to determine whether to appeal.

American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia officials, who represented Morrison, said they were pleased.

“Even in prison, the state cannot discriminate on the basis of race,” said Rebecca Glenberg, ACLU legal director. “The state cannot make assumptions about a person’s religious sincerity based on race.”

All Virginia prisons have had strict rules about personal property since 1996, but decisions about religious exemptions have been left up to individual wardens.

At Greensville, the warden received exemption requests from Morrison and other members of a prison group called Heritage Examined Around Redman Traditions, which was made up of inmates who wanted to practice rituals similar to some tribal ceremonies.

Prison officials asked the group to provide proof of tribal membership, but most of the members were not Native American.

A Native American member who had the necessary documentation received an exemption, according to court documents.

In 1997, Morrison, who was convicted of kidnapping and murder in Newport News, and at least three other inmates filed suit challenging that policy. State officials argued that they had demanded proof of Native American heritage as a way to gauge the “sincerity” of the inmates’ beliefs.

The appeals court found that practice unacceptable. “We cannot endorse the proposition that an inmate’s sincerity of religious beliefs. . . . can be defined solely by his race or heritage,” Traxler wrote.

It is not clear how wide an impact the decision will have. Policies vary from prison to prison, and Glenberg said the ACLU has received complaints only from Greensville.

The appeals court did not order the prison to give Morrison the items. Rather, the judges told the state to deal with the security concerns on a racially neutral basis.

Corrections Department spokesman Larry Traylor said he could not comment on how the department will deal with the ruling.

Indians Have No Thanks for Holiday

November 22, 2000

By Bill Baskervill ILL, Associated Press Writer –

KING WILLIAM, Va. (AP) – As Americans celebrate a holiday of harmony between colonists and Indians sharing a grateful meal, some descendants of tribal peoples say they are still fighting a “colonial mentality” that is glossed over in history books.

In Virginia, where a proposed reservoir project between two reservations is said to threaten Indian archaeological and sacred sites, even attempts to officially commemorate history have revived friction.

Earlier this year, the state angered Indians by designating a planned observance of the 400-year anniversary of Jamestown as “Celebration 2007.” Arrival of the English settlers was nothing to celebrate, the Indians said. The complaints prompted the state to remove the word “celebration” from any official references to the event.

“I see 400 years of a legacy of oppression and discrimination,” said Chief G. Anne Richardson of the Rappahannock Indians, one of the state’s eight main tribal groups with a total of 2,700 members. She said the state has “not been able to move past the colonial mentality.”

Many in other tribes that came into contact with early settlers share Richardson’s views. In Massachusetts, the Wampanoag have staged days of mourning near Plymouth Rock, casting Thanksgiving as a symbol of America’s poor treatment of Indians.

On Wednesday in Richmond, Debora “Littlewing” Moore wore tears of red paint on her face to the 354th annual Indian tribute in which the Pamunkey and Mattaponi tribes present dead game to Virginia’s governor at the state Capitol.

“These are tears of the blood of our people,” Moore said. “We’ll never be understood and accepted. There is an oppression still in this country. I came here at war today.”

At another point a man in the audience shouted at Gov. Jim Gilmore, “What about the reservoir?”

Even before Massachusetts’ Pilgrim settlers shared their Thanksgiving meal with the Indians, relations between the first permanent English settlers in America and the native people had gotten off to a rocky start. Those first settlers had arrived at a small peninsula along the James River on May 14, 1607. This was Jamestown.

A few weeks later they were attacked by the Powhatan chiefdom, an alliance of about 30 tribes with as many as 13,000 people.

The conflict lasted until 1614 when the English captured Pocahontas, daughter of the Powhatans’ chief. Her uncle, Opechancanough, chief of the Pamunkey tribe, raided English settlements in 1622, killing nearly 350 colonists and nearly driving the remaining settlers back to England.

Hostilities persisted until 1632 when both sides agreed to peace. But colonial expansion continued apace, gobbling up Powhatan land. Opechancanough retaliated again in 1644 in a final spasm of attacks, killing more than 500 colonists.

But by then the English population was too large to be defeated, and Opechancanough was eventually captured and killed.

Virginia’s native people have been nearly invisible ever since, said Danielle Moretti-Langholtz, a cultural anthropologist at the College of William and Mary. “The remnant population of the time kept a very low profile,” maintaining a subsistence lifestyle almost into the 20th century, she said.

The state’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924 tried to legislate Indians out of existence, linking Indians and blacks into a larger nonwhite culture and barring marriage between whites and nonwhites. The act, an effort by Virginia’s Southern aristocracy to maintain white supremacy, made it a crime for people to identify themselves as Indian. It was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967.

Virginia’s 17th century policy toward its native people set a tone for the nation’s treatment of Indians, said Edward D. Ragan, a historian and expert on Native American culture at Syracuse University.

Eradication and land grabs were embraced by Virginians George Washington and Thomas Jefferson when they were president, policies that had their origins in Virginia early in the 17th century.

The Indians called Washington “Conotacarious” – devourer of villages. He ordered the destruction of Indian villages in New York state during the Revolutionary War and warned other tribes he would do the same thing to them if they fought the Americans, Ragan said.

Jefferson sought to peacefully eradicate Indian culture, he said.

“When Thomas Jefferson comes along his policy tends to be to educate children in Christian ways, to reconstruct Indians socially by emphasizing agriculture as a way of confining men to a plot of land instead of hunting and roaming,” Ragan said.

Virginia’s Indians continue to fight for federal recognition of their sovereignty, first sought in 1921 when Rappahannock Chief George Nelson went before Congress.

More than 550 tribes in 33 states have received federal recognition, giving them a government-to-government relationship with the United States under which no decisions about their lands and people are made without their consent.

Rep. James Moran, D-Va., introduced the sovereignty bill for Virginia’s tribes. “I find it ironic … that after almost 400 years of mistreatment by white men, we would erect yet another barrier to this modest step to partially remedy some of the injustice that has been visited upon the Indians of Virginia,” he said.

But nine of Virginia’s 11 congressmen are reluctant to support federal recognition, even though the Virginia General Assembly passed a resolution last year urging Congress to grant it.

Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., leads the congressional opposition, convinced sovereignty ultimately will mean casinos in Virginia, despite protestations from tribes that that is not planned.

“I don’t think the people of Virginia favor (casino) gambling,” Wolf said. He said sovereignty is not necessary for tribes to qualify for federal health care and housing programs and that he would be “very sympathetic” to working with Indians to receive such benefits.

Republican Gov. Jim Gilmore wrote Sen. John Warner, R-Va., in September that his administration was debating whether to support sovereignty. Wolf said he will fight it regardless of Gilmore’s position.

“Ideally, we would like to consider the benefits of federal recognition for Virginia Indians while also protecting the Commonwealth from future gambling interests that seek to exploit federal recognition to force states to allow gaming on reservations,” Gilmore wrote. Virginia already has a state-sponsored lottery and legalized horse race gambling.

The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs says 212 tribes in 24 states have some form of gambling.

Meanwhile, the city of Newport News with the support of Gilmore is trying to build a reservoir that the Mattaponi and Pamunkey Indians – the only Virginia tribes with reservations – say would cause irreparable damage to their way of life. The city argues the reservoir is vital to provide future water resources.

“Right from the beginning Newport News has never understood us and our cultural and sacred values,” said Carl T. Custalow, assistant chief of the Mattaponi. “Understanding and being non-Indian is hard to do”

The Army Corps of Engineers, which has indicated it will deny a permit for the reservoir, says it will affect 72 prehistoric archaeological sites, a sacred site, traditional hunting, gathering and religious practices and subsistence fisheries of the two tribes.

Newport News wants “to reach some kind of accommodation with the tribes that allows us to go ahead with the project and still address their concerns and provide whatever mitigation and compensation that could be agreed to with them,” Assistant City Manager Randy W. Hildebrandt said.

Said Custalow: “The bottom line is that we can’t be bought.”

Possibility Of Casinos Splits Virgina

By Spencer S. Hsu, Washington Post Staff Writer
September 16, 2000

A proposal to grant federal recognition to eight Native American tribes in central and southeastern Virginia has deeply divided the state’s members of Congress, some of whom fear sovereign tribal nations could someday introduce legalized casino gambling into the commonwealth.

Rep. James P. Moran Jr., a Democrat representing Arlington, Alexandria and part of Fairfax County, has introduced legislation that would acknowledge the partial autonomy of eight tribes whose presence in the state since pre-Colonial times is uncontested, but whose people have been scattered by a combination of social currents and state policy.

Together, the groups have requests for autonomy for more than 2,000 acres in King William County granted in Colonial days by the king of England and held in two reservations by the Mattaponi and the Pamunkey. The other tribes have assembled much smaller parcels across the state more recently. Most of that land is south and east of Fredericksburg along tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay.

Federal recognition qualifies Native American tribes for aid and classifies them as sovereign nations, empowering them to build and develop casinos or anything else largely independent of state control.

Although current tribal leaders have said they are not interested in gambling, many political leaders are concerned that future chiefs may think otherwise.

“Once federal recognition is granted, representatives of the tribes can be granted the authority to set up legalized gambling outlets in Virginia without the approval of any Virginia state or local officials,” said U.S. Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.).

Moran, whose suburban Washington district includes none of the claimed land, said the tribes’ plight is a result of a perverse race-conscious campaign in Virginia during the early 20th century, when newborn Native Americans were required to be identified as “colored.”

“As a result, the claims that these tribes have were not recognized, apparently because officially Indians couldn’t exist in the state,” Moran said yesterday, blaming “institutionalized racism on the part of the State of Virginia” for denying many individuals education, employment and subsequent benefits.

“This is a compelling situation that just cries out for justice, and to think that we are in the 21st century now and this has never been rectified is just shocking,” said Moran.

But opposition to the tribes’ request, which Moran will present Monday at a Capitol Hill briefing, is strong. Business and community groups have balked at the perceived commercial threat of tribal enterprises, and Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) has said the tribes should not be severed from their historic relationship with the commonwealth.

The most vocal critics, however, are Republican Reps. Robert W. Goodlatte, of Roanoke, and Wolf, of McLean. Wolf, a leading congressional opponent of the gambling industry, has proposed a moratorium on the expansion of gaming.

Recently, he wrote to Virginia newspapers warning that federal recognition could convey immunity to tribes from state laws against casino gambling. His letter pointed to Michigan’s experience with gaming, saying that “crime, bankruptcy, family breakup and death” are “compounded by the political corruption that gambling brings to local, state and federal government.”

Wolf spokeswoman Rosanne Dupras said yesterday that he supports a compromise that would grant the benefits of federal aid if tribes gave up their claim for recognition. These include an array of health, housing and other assistance programs, including a base grant of $100,000 per tribe.

While Virginia is home to 19,000 Native Americans, according to a 1998 Census Bureau estimate, only about 1,500 claim membership in the eight tribes–the Chickahominy, Chickahominy Indian-Eastern Division, Mattaponi, Upper Mattaponi, Monacan, Nansemond, Pamunkey and Rappahannock, according to Moran’s office.

Tribal leaders have pledged their opposition to casino gambling, despite the millions the casino industry could bring their members in a state that has a state lottery and parimutuel horse track wagering.

Monacan Chief Kenneth Branham, of Amherst County, said yesterday: “There’s a great deal of anger toward the politicians who would even suggest that we would want gambling. . . . If we were interested in any form of gambling, very simply, we could have bingo parlors right now.” Most Virginia tribes, he said, have historic ties to Christian churches that provided education to members denied schooling by the state and that oppose gambling.

Federal recognition is a prerequisite for tribes seeking to gain immunity from state laws against gambling. Ordinarily, a compact with a state governor is still required before tribes can proceed.

In Virginia’s case, unless Congress declares otherwise, federal recognition could permit tribes to proceed with casinos without state approval, depending on how the secretary of the interior interprets existing regulations.

Moran’s bill remains in committee, where prospect for action in this fall’s crowded calendar is dim, House Republican leadership aides say.

© 2000 The Washington Post Company

400th Anniversary of English Colony

Tuesday May 16, 2000

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (AP) – Complaints by Virginia’s Indian tribes have prompted planners of the upcoming 400th anniversary of the founding of the Jamestown colony to drop references to “celebration.”

The word had been part of the event’s planning committee, the Celebration 2007 Steering Committee. But on Tuesday, the panel was renamed the Jamestown 2007 Steering Committee.

Stuart W. Connock, a trustee of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation that is putting together the observance, said it has never been given an official name or theme.

During recent anniversary talks, Indian representatives told planners that the 1607 founding of the English settlement amounted to an invasion and wasn’t something to celebrate. Representatives of the Virginia chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People also objected to the term.

Roxane Gilmore, Virginia’s first lady and honorary chairwoman of the planned commemoration, promised last month that the concern would be honored.