The change in status, which has been in the works for nearly two decades, affects the 4,400 members of the Chickahominy, the Eastern Chickahominy, the Upper Mattaponi, the Rappahannock, the Monacan and the Nansemond tribes.
In addition to making federal dollars available for housing, education and medical care, the recognition also allows the tribes to repatriate remains of their ancestors stored at the Smithsonian.
More importantly, sponsors say, the measure signed into law Monday corrects a long-standing injustice for tribes that were among the first to greet English settlers in 1607.
"This is an issue of respect; federal recognition acknowledges and protects the historical and cultural identities of these tribes," Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.), who sponsored the bill, said in a statement. "Not only will it affirm the government-to-government relationship between the United States and the Virginia tribes, but it will create opportunities to enhance and protect the well-being of tribal members."
The bill passed the House in May and the Senate earlier this month when Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) forced a surprise vote.
With the new law, the senators said in a joint statement, "our country is finally honoring [the tribes] with the recognition they deserve. We are inspired by the tribes' leaders who never gave up."