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Official Recognition of the United Cherokee Indian Tribe of Virginia, Incorporated

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The House Joint Resolution No 744 focuses on the current status of the United Cherokee Indian Tribe of Virginia, Incorporated and emphasizes the importance of the state recognition of this tribe. This document presents an analysis of the past situation, in which two different tribes were recognized by the state even though de facto they were one tribe led by Samuel H. Penn, Sr. Therefore, although earlier two different native Cherokee settlements were recognized on the Virginia territory, this bill states that it is essential to consider the current situation and allow state recognition of one tribe - the United Cherokee Indian Tribe of Virginia, Incorporated. It is essential to note that before this case a separate Virginia Council on Indians was vetting tribe’s desire to be recognized by state. But, after the biased attitudes of the Council, which resulted with the last official recognition of a tribe in 1989, the VCI stopped functioning. Therefore, the General Assembly is the only state authority that can make a decision on the issue.

The bill presents a coherent background for the proposed change in the legislation. It describes the history of the United Cherokee Indian Tribe of Virginia, Incorporated, along with the respected background of its founder, Raleigh Pinn. The document emphasizes the significant contributions of Raleigh Pinn in the development of the Virginia community as a respected citizen. The Bill pays a separate attention to the intentions of Raleigh Pinn in the process of establishment of the two separate tribes instead of one. Two separate settlements were established “so as to not alarm local white settlers with one large Cherokee settlement” (“HJ744: United Cherokee Indian Tribe of Virginia, Incorporated”). Therefore, this was a measure that was required back then.

When times changed, however, the two settlements became more integrated, which resulted in the official name “United Cherokee Indian Tribe of Virginia, Incorporated” introduced in 1991. Although it seems like the bill presents the historical background for the current situation, it in fact does not cover all the issues due to the incompetence of the lawmakers. The VCI has previously been responsible for all the Native American affairs, but now there’s no official body that is well aware of the Native American history in the region. This might result in the longer period required for the bill to pass, or even additional policy standardizations that can take months to propose and approve.

Some might say that the limitations stated in the bill, such as the denial to recognize the tribe’s sovereignty or its’ long history might be the drawbacks of the document. In fact, these strict restrains give the bill more chances to pass. The official recognition of one tribe seems to be quite a small step, but it lays the grounds for the further developments in the area. Only with the official recognition the United Cherokee Indian Tribe of Virginia, Incorporated will have a possibility to further lobby the tribe’s rights. Therefore, this bill is a good example of the famous tale of the rabbit and the turtle, when small steps lead to the better results.

Although the bill is now on the first stages, just being introduced and passed to the Rules Committee, it is already possible to identify the groups of supporters and opponents of the bill. Taking into consideration the fact that the current bill does not introduce some significant changes, it will be supported not only by the native minority, but also by the public opinion. Currently there is no such fear of the native tribes, as it existed in times of creation of the two Cherokee settlements. Moreover, noting that the two tribes had the official name of the United Cherokee Indian Tribe of Virginia, Incorporated for more than past 20 years, nothing will significantly change for the majority. Therefore, there will be more “pro” votes. At the same time, some of the businesses and landowners still prefer to keep control over the native settlements and limit their possibilities. The growing power of native peoples may threaten the business interests of these parties, therefore there may be opposing votes from those who see the growing strength of the United Cherokee Indian Tribe of Virginia, Incorporated in the state recognition of the tribe’s unity. Moreover, the tribes, which have already been officially recognized by the state will oppose the positive decision on the issue, because the acknowledgement of a new tribe will decrease their chances for state grants and other benefits.

This bill might be considered a small step for the tribe, but it definitely requires all the support it can get. As it was already mentioned, this small change in legislation and official recognition of the United Cherokee Indian Tribe of Virginia, Incorporated will create a steady background for the further development of the tribe. Even though de facto the two tribes existed as one, they obviously lacked official recognition on the state level that could ensure their status in Virginia. Therefore, for this case it is essential to provide steady historical background for the recognition of the United Cherokee Indian Tribe of Virginia, Incorporated.

For the future it is, of course, essential to develop a new better system that would take care of the Native American affairs as a replacement of the Virginia Council on Indians. It is clear that without a separate body it is much more complicated to make decisions on the Native American issues due to the lack of appropriate information and experience. Still, in the current case the proponents of the bill are able to present sufficient information that will help the General Assembly to pass the bill.

Taking into consideration the whole history of the Native population of America one has at least a moral responsibility to support the bills that provide stability for those who still preserve the native traditions and communities. Current native settlements present the tiny legacy of the tribes destroyed by the colonization of Americas. And, though it might sound too emotional, modern American citizens should remember the mistakes of the past and try to improve the situation as much as they can.

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