Seven Virginia Tribes Celebrate Federal Recognition on York River

Tribal leaders from seven Virginia tribes gathered this week to celebrate the recognition they’ve finally received from the federal government.

The Monacan Indian Nation 2018 Powwow. Photo: Nikki Bass/

Chiefs of the Chickahominy, Chickahominy Eastern Division, Monacan, Nansemond, Pamunkey, Rappahannock, and Upper Mattaponi tribes joined with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, the National Park Service, and other federal and local leaders at Werowocomoco on the York River to mark the milestone. Historians believe the site dates back to AD 1200, and it was the meeting place of Powhatan and Captain John Smith in 1607.

The Pamunkey, the tribe of Pocohontas, received federal recognition in 2016. The other six tribes were officially recognized in legislation signed by President Donald Trump in January 2018. Members of the seven tribes are descendants of those Algonquin-speaking tribes first documented in 1607.

Secretary Zinke said he “welcomes these tribes into the Federal family with open arms.”

“The perseverance of these Tribes to gain what they and their creator have always known is incredible.”

The tribes have fought for recognition for years. The Commonwealth of Virginia recognizes a total of 11 tribes, including the seven that are federally recognized, as well as the Mattaponi, Cheroenhaka (Nottoway), Nottoway of Virginia, and Patawomeck.

According to the National Park Service, between Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Washington, D.C., there are tens of thousands of American Indians living in the Chesapeake Bay region.

-Meg Walburn Viviano