Virginia Indian chief: Obama has done nothing to help us gain federal recognition
Posted By Patrick Howley On 9:16 PM 10/17/2013
President Barack Obama has involved himself in the “trivial” campaign to change the name of the NFL’s Washington Redskins while ignoring 11 Virginia tribes who are currently living without the health, educational and religious benefits that come with federal recognition, according to the chief of one of Virginia’s most storied Indian tribes.
Obama recently said that if he was the owner of the Washington Redskins, he would “think about changing” the team’s name, lending credibility to an effort by Indian activist and Obama fundraiser guest Ray Halbritter to pressure the NFL and Redskins owner Dan Snyder to pick a more politically correct team name.
“President Obama made the statement that he thought the name ‘Redskins’ was an offensive, but I would debate him on the issue. I don’t find the name offensive,” Walt “Redhawk” Brown, chief of the Cheroenhaka Nottoway Tribe in Virginia, told The Daily Caller.
“What I find offensive is there are 11 tribes in Virginia and he has not done anything to get those tribes federally recognized,” Brown said. “The Redskins issue is trivial.”
The issue of federal recognition, according to Brown, is not trivial.
“There are 11 tribes state recognized by state of Virginia, but none that are federally recognized. President Obama has been working with with tribes out west, which are federally recognized, and there are tribes up north that are federally recognized. But none in Virginia.”
“We were the first ones to have contact with colonials. If not for us, colonials would have died out,” Brown said.
“There are education benefits and health benefits” that only come with federal recognition, Brown said, as well as religious customs that are only permitted among federally recognized tribes.
“Eco-feathers are used for ceremonial purposes. If you’re not federally recognized, you don’t have the authorization to use eco-feathers. You’re taking away my culture. You’re telling me I can’t use them for religious purposes. These traditions are very important,” Brown said. ”I don’t like my history being taken away.”
Brown said there is no question that the White House is aware of Virginia tribes’ federal recognition problem.
“In 2002, we filed a letter of intent with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to make a recommendation to the Secretary of the Interior. There are only three ways to be federally recognized: by Congress, by the Secretary of the Interior, or in the federal court system,” Brown said. “The political entity of Virginia, in its early racist attitude, took a lot of our culture and ethnicity away from us. Federal recognition is very important to us. This is what my president should be concentrating on.”
Brown noted that the Oneida tribe, led by anti-Washington Redskins activist Ray Halbritter, has federal recognition while Brown’s Cheroenhaka Nottoway people do not.
Halbritter attended a January 27, 2012 fundraiser with President Obama in Washington, D.C. with 70 Indian leaders. The $15,000 to $35,800 fundraiser raised up to $2.5 million for Obama’s re-election efforts.
“The president was most gracious and kind in his remarks,” Halbritter said after the event to a media network owned by his nation’s company, noting that Obama is doing more to reach out to Indian tribes than any president in his experience.
As for the Redskins name change issue, Brown is frustrated by the attention it’s been getting.
“The name is referring to the players on the team who come from all nationalities, and I think they would take pride in being called Redskins.”
The Cheroenhaka Nottoway tribe operates a replica 17th century village in Courtland, Virginia that teaches schoolchildren the customs, music, traditions and native Iroquoian language identical to those chronicled by John Wood in 1820.
The White House did not return a request for comment.