By RICHARD G. SNEED
EBCI PRINCIPAL CHIEF
I hope you all enjoyed your holidays and are off to a great start in the new year. I have spoken often about the importance of acknowledging our blessings, and while 2020 had its share of obstacles, there were some bright spots of good news to report as well. As we look forward to 2021, I wanted to review some recent victories affecting our Nation.
As you may be aware, we have been battling an unlawful attempt to establish an off-reservation casino in our state through land acquisition by the South Carolina-based Catawba Indian Nation. The Department of Interior illegally approved this unprecedented land grab, and we are aggressively challenging their decision in federal court.
The facts are clear, and our case is strong. As a result, proponents of the illegitimate casino have sought to use congressional legislation to nullify our court case. Their efforts culminated in an attempt to insert a Catawba gaming provision into “must-pass” legislation that Congress considered over the holidays. Our team worked hard to highlight the fact that this casino is unwanted by North Carolina residents and that passage of such a bill would set a precedent for special interest groups to leverage Indian policy at the expense of the tribes and citizens everywhere. Ultimately, our view prevailed, and Catawba legislation failed to pass in the 116th Congress.
However, as a new Congress begins, and our court case continues towards what we believe will be a positive conclusion, we expect proponents of the casino to make another attempt at legislation. We will continue to vigorously oppose any attempt to subvert the law on behalf of the special interests seeking this illicit casino.
Along with stopping Catawba legislation, we successfully beat back a direct assault on tribal identity and culture. For many years, a group of people calling themselves the Lumbee Indian Tribe have sought to become a federally recognized Indian Tribe. However, there are significant questions about the authenticity of their ancestry.
Over the years, they have falsely claimed descendence from four separate historical tribes, including the Cherokee. These are precisely the types of questions that stringent processes and standards at the Department of Interior were established to investigate in order to protect legitimate tribes. But, the Lumbee have sought to avoid the scrutiny of this process, preferring a political path instead.
As North Carolina shaped up as a closely watched battleground in the presidential election, the Lumbee gained significant attention, with several politicians openly and obscenely bartering federal recognition in exchange for votes.
Legislators representing Lumbee interests made good on their electoral bargain by attempting to attach legislative language onto the year-end bills. If accepted, the provision would have bypassed all measures to authenticate the Lumbee claims and immediately grant them federal recognition.
Politicizing the federal recognition process by substituting electoral calculations for facts and truth is a dangerous path that would compromise all Native American peoples’ identities. That is why we joined with over forty other tribal nations to lead an effort to successfully block this legislation. Just as with the Catawba, we expect this issue to return in the next Congress, and we will once again be there to meet the challenge.
In closing, I want to reiterate my administration’s commitment to fighting for you and the interests of our people as we both navigate the challenges and strive to capitalize on the opportunities of the future. I sincerely hope you are blessed with many successes in the coming year. I am grateful for the opportunity to represent the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians as Principal Chief.