What I'm Most Proud Of

What I'm Most Proud Of

One of my greatest achievements of this General Assembly session was the final passage of HB 1157, which establishes policies and procedures for state agencies to consult with federally recognized Tribal Nations on permits and reviews relating to their environmental, cultural, and historic resources. The bill also directs the Secretary of the Commonwealth to designate an Ombudsman to facilitate tribal consultation, and who will act as a main point of contact for the General Assembly and state agencies with Virginia’s Tribal Nations. This significant victory was the top legislative priority for Virginia’s Tribes for the past several years, and it was my honor to carry it on their behalf each year in the House.

Early consultation is a win-win for the Commonwealth, private developers, and Tribal Nations, providing project predictability and efficiency by identifying and resolving potential sources of delay early in planning before millions of dollars have been invested into projects. While not giving Tribes a “veto” on projects, it gives them a proactive seat at the table to be notified about projects that may impact them and express their concerns.

This landmark legislation culminated decades of work by Virginia’s tribal nations to gain appropriate state and federal recognition, and over three years of effort by legislators here in the General Assembly spanning two Governors’ administrations. This bill going into effect is a huge step in the right direction of righting historic wrongs.

The Pamunkey Tribe became the first to gain recognition by the federal government back in 2015. In 2018, the federal government recognized six more tribes: the Chickahominy Indian Tribe, the Chickahominy Indians Eastern Division, the Nansemond Indian Nation, the Rappahannock Tribe, the Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe, and the Monacan Indian Nation. Tribes currently holding state recognition are the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway), Nottoway, Mattaponi, and Patawomeck. Tribal recognition on the state and federal levels is important in establishing a government-to-government relationship, meaning that the state or federal government recognizes a Tribe’s right to exist as a sovereign entity. The federal recognition status recognizes a Tribe’s inherent right to self-governance and the opportunity to receive certain federal benefits, services, and protection like land trusts, food, and housing assistance.

Native people have lived on this land for thousands of years and they are still here today! Their citizens have suffered untold hardships, discrimination, and loss of land, language, and livelihoods. And yet, they have endured. 13,000 Native Americans died in World War I fighting for the United States, and at the time they were not even considered US citizens. They are also serving as key conservationists. Virginia’s Tribal nations were the first stewards of the Chesapeake Bay and its many tributaries, and many of our tribal nation’s names reflect the inextricable relationship between their peoples and the waters of the Commonwealth. For example, Nansemond means “fishing point,” Mattaponi means “People of the River,” and Rappahannock means “river of quick, rising water.”

Virginia’s tribes continue their long-standing conservation and protection of our shared waters today with projects throughout the watershed. In just the last few years tribal nations on the Bay have engaged in preserving important ancestral land along key tributaries, oyster reef creation and living shoreline projects to restore coastal habitat and water quality, efforts to restore depleted keystone fish populations, and coastal resilience projects to ensure vital coastal habitat can migrate in the face of climate change impacts. Just last week, I had the opportunity to join Chief Anne Richardson of the Rappahannock Tribe to visit the Fones Cliff property, which has become a model for indigenous-led conservation and land repatriation nationwide. 

The sacrifice, patriotism, and culture of Virginia’s tribes inspires all of us and are woven into the fabric of our great nation.

I encourage you to attend events hosted by Virginia Tribes this year to learn more about their unique heritage. On Memorial Day weekend, the Upper Mattaponi Tribe will host their 35th annual pow-wow in King William, with many more cultural events ahead in the summer and fall.