As recently as the 1970s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs was still actively pursuing a policy of “assimilation”, dating at least to the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924. The goal of assimilation — plainly stated early on — was to eliminate the reservations and steer Native Americans into mainstream U.S. culture. In July 2000 the Washington state GOP adopted a resolution of “termination” for tribal governments. As of 2004, there are still claims of theft of Native American land for the coal and uranium it contains.
In the state of Virginia, Native Americans face a unique problem. Virginia has no federally recognized tribes, largely due to Walter Ashby Plecker. In 1912, Plecker became the first registrar of the state’s Bureau of Vital Statistics, serving until 1946. Plecker believed that the state’s Native Americans had been “mongrelized” with its African American population. A law passed by the state’s General Assembly recognized only two races, “white” and “colored”. Plecker pressured local governments into reclassifying all Native Americans in the state as “colored”, leading to the destruction of records on the state’s Native American community.
In order to receive federal recognition and the benefits it confers, tribes must prove their continuous existence since 1900. The federal government has so far refused to bend on this bureaucratic requirement. A bill currently before U.S. Congress to ease this requirement has been favorably reported out of a key Senate committee, being supported by both of Virginia’s senators, George Allen and John Warner, but faces opposition in the House from Representative Virgil Goode, who has expressed concerns that federal recognition could open the door to gambling in the state.