US Recognizes Pocahontas' Tribe—400 Years Later
It's the first Native American tribe ever recognized in the state of Virginia
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 10, 2015 7:07 AM CDT
Martin Gallivan, College of William professor, right, gestures as Pamunkey Indian Jeff Brown, left, and Randolph Turner, retired state archaeologist, listen in Gloucester, Va., Monday, June 17, 2013.   (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
camera-icon View 1 more image

(Newser) – More than 400 years after Pocahontas is said to have saved British settler John Smith from being killed by her father, Chief Powhatan, her tribe is being officially recognized by the US government. The Pamunkey tribe, which has lived on or near some 1,200 acres in rural Virginia for several hundred years, has dwindled to 208 members, only a quarter of whom still live on the reservation thanks to job scarcity, reports the Los Angeles Times. "We were a tribe here before the US government existed," says one tribal council member. The designation makes the Pamunkey tribe the 567th to be recognized federally in the country but the very first in the state of Virginia, reports Nonprofit Quarterly.

Over the past 10 years, the Department of Interior has approved 18 tribal applications and rejected 35, and it took 35 years for the Pamunkey tribe to gain its own, a long road that was not without its bumps. The Congressional Black Caucus, for one, opposed the designation as recently as January because of the tribe's murky history banning interracial marriage, though tribe members claim this was deeply entwined with Virginia's own 1924 Racial Integrity Act and is no longer upheld. Also in opposition: those who stand to lose money if the tribe opens a casino or retail stores—MGM Grand and the Association of American Convenience Stores among them. (Archaeologists are working to resurrect the site where Pocahontas and John Rolfe married.)