H.R. 1385: Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2009

H.R. 1385

Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2009

Rep. James P. Moran

June 3, 2009 (111th Congress, 1st Session)

Staff Contact

Floor Situation

The House is scheduled to begin consideration of H.R. 1385, the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act, on Wednesday, June 3, 2009, under a structured rule (H.Res. 490), which makes two amendments in order. H.R. 1385 was introduced on March 9, 2009, by Rep. James Moran (D-VA) and referred to the Natural Resources Committee. On April 22, 2009, the bill was marked-up and reported, as amended, by voice vote.

Bill Summary

H.R. 1385 would grant federal recognition to six Indian Tribes in Virginia (VA).  Under the legislation, all U.S. laws, regulations and benefits applicable to Indian tribes would apply to these six tribes and their members.  The bill would provide these tribes access to Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Service benefits and services, including child welfare services, community development, health services, and other service programs.

The six tribes that would receive recognition under the bill are: 

  • The Chickahominy Indian Tribe;
  • The Eastern Division of the Chickahominy Indian Tribe;
  • The Upper Mattaponi Tribe;
  • The Rappahannock Tribe, Inc.;
  • The Monacan Indian Nation; and
  • The Nansemond Indian Tribe.

According to CBO, these six tribes are comprised of a total membership of 4,200 people who would be eligible to receive benefits at an estimated cost of $65 million over five years.   A member of the tribe would be defined as an individual that had enrolled and was recognized on a tribe's rolls on enactment of the legislation.  Inclusion on the tribal roll is completely left up to the tribe.

The legislation requires the Bureau of Indian Affairs to take any land acquired by one of the six tribes prior to January 1, 2007, into trust and stipulates that any such land would be considered that tribe's reservation land.

H.R. 1385 stipulates that the State of Virginia is responsible for exercising jurisdiction over all criminal offenses and all civil actions that arise on lands located within Virginia that are owned by, or held in trust by the United States for these six tribes.

The bill would also prohibit any of the tribes established under this bill from participating in gambling or operating gambling facilities on any of the tribal land.  The bill states that any tribal hunting, fishing, trapping, or water rights would not be affected by the legislation.


The members of the six tribes that would be granted federal recognition by H.R. 1385 each claim an ancestry as descendants of tribes that occupied land in Virginia since English settlers arrived in the 15th Century.   Though each tribe was recognized by the State of Virginia in the 1980s, each group has unsuccessfully sought federal recognition as a tribe through the standard Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) process on numerous occasions.

According to House Report 111-104, the tribes have been unable to provide the BIA with proper evidence of their Indian ancestry because many of the historical records and artifacts which associate them with the tribe were destroyed in the Civil War.  The tribes also contend that the State of Virginia purposefully attempted to destroy other evidence of ancestry in the early 1900's, though the State has since recognized the tribes.  In any event, the BIA has yet to approve of the tribe's recognition through the Federal Acknowledgment Process because of a lack of historical evidence.  The House and Senate have introduced legislation that would congressionally recognize these tribes in the 107th, 108th, 109th, and 110th Congresses.  None of the legislation, however, has been enacted into law. 

According to the dissenting views published in the House Report by Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Doc Hastings (R-WA), it remains unclear whether every member of these six tribes is actually of Indian Ancestry.  Rep. Hastings stated that this discrepancy "leads to a related question: is every member of these tribes an Indian descendant of one of the historic tribes of Virginia?  The answer to this question is unclear because the Committee has neither analyzed nor received from the Department of the Interior a reasonable analysis of the records necessary for a fully informed decision to recommend that the full House pass H.R. 1385."  In addition, nothing in the legislation allows the Secretary of Interior to verify the ancestry of the tribe's members, meaning that some members with no historical connection to the Virginia tribes could receive federal Indian services if the tribe has placed them on their rolls.

Concerns have also been raised that this bill does not address the recent Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar, in which the court ruled the Department of Interior (DOI) had improperly taken 31 acres of land into trust in Rhode Island for the Narragansett Indian Tribe.  The Supreme Court ruled that the DOI did not have the authority to take the land into trust because the tribe was not given federal recognition until after the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act.  Some Members have expressed concerns that H.R. 1385 legislation would set a precedent for resolving issues under this decision through a congressional process.  The dissenting views state, "If the solution to Carcieri is to deal with each and every post-1934 tribe's trust land application separately in Congress, then H.R. 1385 is appropriate.  If the solution is to provide the Secretary of Interior with appropriate authority to acquire lands in trust, then H.R. 1385 is not appropriate."

Some Members may be concerned that H.R. 31 would grant federal recognition and benefits to approximately 4,200 members of six Virginia Indian tribes, though the tribes have not presented sufficient evidence to the BIA to receive federal recognition.  Some Members may also be concerned that the legislation does not require members of the tribes to verify their Indian ancestry, thus services provided to the tribes could pay for benefits to individuals with unverified Indian heritage.



According to CBO, H.R. 1383 would cost $65 million over five years for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service to provide federal benefits to the six Virginia Indian tribes who are not currently recognized as eligible Indian services recipients.


1) Goodlatte (R-VA): Prohibits the use of eminent domain to acquire lands put into trust for any of the six Indian Tribes that would receive federal recognition under the legislation.

2) Goodlatte (R-VA):  Prohibits the Secretary of Interior from taking land into trust from Albemarle County, Alleghany County, Amherst County, Augusta County, Campbell County, Nelson County, and Rockbridge County, Virginia, for the Monacan Indians.  The Secretary would only be authorized to take land into trust for the tribe from Amherst County, Virginia.