New Commission Will Update Law to Reflect Federal Recognition of Seven Virginia Tribes

On Monday, July 1st, representatives from Virginia’s federally recognized Tribes, a member of the scholarly community, and selected members of the General Assembly met for the first time as the Commission on Updating Virginia Law to Reflect Federal Recognition of Virginia Tribes (the Commission).

The Commission’s mandate is to review the Virginia Code and assess ways to revise the law to reflect the government-to-government relationship the Commonwealth should maintain, by treaty and applicable federal law, with the seven self-governing, federally recognized Tribal Nations. The General Assembly has given the Commission two years to complete its work.

At the beginning of the meeting, Chief Anne Richardson, of the Rappahannock Tribe, led the group in prayer and discussed why this Commission is needed. Then, Morgan Faulkner, of the Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe, provided a historic overview of the Tribes’ relationships with the government of Virginia, from the British Crown to the Colonial era, and up to the modern day.

Professor Andrew Block, head of the University of Virginia’s State and Local Government Policy Clinic, offered the services of his students to the Commission. The clinic students will conduct legal research for the Commission on a pro bono basis.

The Commission is a bipartisan group appointed by the Speaker of the House of Delegates and the Senate Committee on Rules. Del. Paul Krizek (D) will chair the group and Sen. Dave Marsden (D) will serve as Vice Chair.

The Tribal Nations are represented by Reggie Stewart of the Chickahominy Tribe, Penny Wynn of the Chickahominy Tribe-Eastern Division, John L. Johns of the Monacan Nation, Tom Badamo of the Nansemond Nation, Jennifer Dixon of the Pamunkey Tribe, Chief Anne Richardson of the Rappahannock Tribe, and Morgan Faulkner of the Upper Mattaponi Tribe.

Other members of the Commission include Delegates Delores McQuinn, Scott Wyatt, Marcus Simon, Shelly Simonds, and Ellen Campbell. From the State Senate, Ryan McDougle, Mark Peake, and Richard Stuart are also serving. Dr. Catherine Lee Porter, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Hampton University, is representing the scholarly community. Kelly Gee, Secretary of the Commonwealth, is an ex officio member of the Commission.

Among the first topics the Commission will consider are: how Tribes are defined in the Virginia Code, how to account for the Tribes’ sovereign status as domestic dependent nations under the U.S. Constitution, and how to help Virginia’s Tribal children by better aligning Virginia’s state laws with the requirements of the federal law, especially the Indian Child Welfare Act.