By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina didn’t get the Christmas present they’ve been hoping for for more than a century – federal recognition as an American Indian tribe. The U.S. Senate failed to act on the Lumbee Acknowledge Act after having been passed in the U.S. House of Representatives on Nov. 16, and attempts to attach it to the federal Omnibus Spending Bill also failed.
Lumbee Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin Jr. issued the following statement on the evening of Sunday, Dec. 20, “Our understanding is that, even after our dedicated recent efforts to get Lumbee Recognition legislation enacted, it is with a heavy heart that I inform you we have not been successful. It is also our understanding that no Indian tribal legislation was included in the Omnibus Appropriations bill Congress is approving this weekend.”
He added, “I want to thank our many champions in the House and Senate and our friends and allies in North Carolina and across the country for their friendship and support. I can assure you this is not the final word on Lumbee recognition.”
Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed said in a statement, “The group of people seeking federal recognition as the Lumbee Tribe have received enormous attention due to their perceived impact on the presidential election this year. But, electoral politics is no substitute for legitimate evidence of Native ancestry.”
He added, “We are grateful that Congress recognized the deep questions regarding the authenticity of the Lumbee and that those questions can only be answered through the Department of Interior’s comprehensive recognition process. We stand with over 40 other Native American tribes in thanking the bipartisan group of members of Congress who rejected the politicization of the recognition process and defended the sovereignty and identity of legitimate Native Americans everywhere by opposing this bill.”
Senators Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) attempted to have a vote taken on the bill in the Senate on the evening of Monday, Dec. 21, but it was unsuccessful.
Sen. Burr said, “Either before or after we swear in the new Congress, I promise my colleagues this place will come to a grinding halt, and we will take it up through regular order, the Lumbee Recognition Act. We will debate it as long as people want to, and we will make the case why this discrimination is despicable.”
He ended his statement on the issue that evening by stating, “This will be back up.”
Sen. Tillis said that evening, “I want to thank the Lumbee people for their patience, but quite honestly, we are talking about the ninth-largest tribe in the nation and the largest east of the Mississippi river…We are so close, there is a compelling case, and it is a century in the making. The fact that we couldn’t pass this bill today when it passed unanimously out of the House of Representatives just a month ago is a shame. They have been fighting for it for over a century, and I’m going to fight for it as long as I’m in the U.S. Senate.”
The Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina released a statement on the evening of Dec. 21 following the lack of a vote in the Senate. “Senator Burr told the Senate that the fight for the rightful full federal recognition of the Lumbee Tribe will continue on. We’re thankful to Senators Burr and Tillis for their advocacy on behalf of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina.”
The House of Representatives passed H.R. 1964 (Lumbee Recognition Act) on Monday, Nov. 16, and the bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs the following day.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has long opposed the recognition efforts of the Lumbee who were formerly called the Croatan Indians, the Indians of Robeson County, and even the Cherokee Indians of Robeson County.
The EBCI wasn’t the only tribe in opposition. In a joint letter with Chief Sneed dated Nov. 13; Cyrus Ben, Chief of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians addressed concerns to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
The letter states, “For over a century, the Lumbees have claimed to be Cherokee, Croatan, Siouan, Cheraw, Tuscarora, and other unrelated tribes but have never been able to demonstrate any historical or genealogical tie to any historic tribe. Instead of demonstrating credible ties to historic tribes, they abandon one claim for another when challenges to their identity are asserted. H.R. 1964 would even prevent a serious review of the Lumbee claims that its current membership has Native American ancestry.”
For years, the Lumbees were unable to go through the federal acknowledgment process due to an interpretation of the 1956 Lumbee Act.
In a 19-page memorandum issued on Dec. 22, 2016 from the Interior Department’s Office of the Solicitor, Solicitor Hilary C. Tompkins reversed the long-held interpretation that the 1956 Act prohibited the Lumbee Tribe from pursuing federal recognition through the Department petition process.
She relayed in her memorandum that a full review was conducted of the text of the Lumbee Act as well as various case law surrounding the Act. “I conclude that the Lumbee Act does not terminate or forbid the Federal relationship and, therefore, does not bar the Department from recognizing the Lumbee Indians by application of the Part 83 acknowledgment process. Accordingly, I withdraw and reverse contrary memoranda prepared by the Office of the Solicitor in 1989.”
Solicitor Tompkins went on to write in her memorandum, “Because I find that neither the text of the Lumbee Act nor its legislative history precludes the Lumbee Indians from petitioning for Federal acknowledgment under the Department’s regulations, I conclude that they may avail themselves of the acknowledgment process in 25 C.F.R. Part 83.”
According to information from the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Federal Acknowledgment, the Lumbee Tribe doesn’t currently have a petition for federal recognition in process.