The Pamunkey Indians, who claim Pocahontas as an ancestor and in July became the first state tribe to receive federal recognition, are facing a last-minute challenge by a California-based group that previously allied with casino giant MGM Resorts to try to block their bid.
Stand Up for California, a one-person nonprofit organization run by Cheryl Schmit, filed a request for reconsideration to the Interior Board of Indian Appeals on Tuesday, the last day of a 90-day window to appeal the Bureau of Indian Affairs’s decision to award the Pamunkey federal recognition. The move could delay or even derail the tribe’s goal of federal recognition, a status it has been seeking for more than three decades.
In a four-page letter, Schmit argued that the tribe did not meet many of the qualifications for federal status and that the very identity of the modern Pamunkey tribe is questionable. The letter said that current tribe members have not descended from Indian ancestors and that there was doubt as to whether the tribe operated as a functioning political entity, one of the requirements for recognition.
“I think I’ve submitted significant historical information that deserves reconsideration,” Schmitt said in an interview Thursday. “The ancestors they’ve identified do not appear to be members of the original tribe.”
On a cold wet, day last spring, Kevin Brown, then-chief of the Pamunkey tribe, pauses along the banks of the Pamunkey River where the tribe has its home. (Timothy C. Wright/For The Washington Post)
Schmit says she thinks the decision to give the 207-member Pamunkey tribe federal recognition did not strictly follow the guidelines. With 81 tribes in California seeking federal recognition, she worries that it sets a precedent that makes it too easy for tribes to meet the requirements.