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BY CHELYEN DAVIS
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
RICHMOND--On Friday, the Senate Rules Committee approved resolutions to grant state recognition to two different bands of Cherokee Indians in Virginia.
But no one on the committee, including the resolutions' sponsors, could really explain how the two bands are different and distinct. No one spoke up to avow that the tribes met all the stringent criteria that used to be required for state recognition.
No one knew those things, in part, because there is no longer a Virginia Council on Indians to vet tribes' applications for state recognition. That's why the two Cherokee tribes are going through the General Assembly for recognition.
A resolution from Sen. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg, grants state recognition to the United Cherokee Indian Tribe of Virginia, known more commonly--according to his resolution--as the Buffalo Ridge Band of Cherokee.
Now based around Amherst, that tribe traces its roots back to Northumberland County on the Northern Neck. A House version of Newman's bill was also approved by a committee on Thursday.
The other resolution comes from Sens. Jill Vogel, R-Winchester, and Kenny Alexander, D-Norfolk. It would grant state recognition to the Appalachian Cherokee Nation of Virginia--a tribe long based in the mountains of western and Southwest Virginia.
While the resolutions provide an outline of each tribe's claims to state recognition, neither resolution could contain all the background documentation the council used to require. And both resolutions are careful to state that the "Commonwealth, by this resolution, does not address the question of whether the tribe has been continuously in existence since 1776," which once was one of the many requirements for state recognition through the council.
The council had been responsible for vetting other tribes' recognition efforts since 1983, when the General Assembly granted state recognition to eight tribes--a status that can offer tribes access to grants or standing to protest when, for example, their burial grounds are threatened.
The state then assigned to those tribes, through the Virginia Council on Indians, the task of vetting other tribes that wanted state recognition. Since then, just two tribes have won recognition through the council--the last in 1989.