By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Staff
Certain lawmakers are attempting yet again to garner federal recognition for the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. Congressmen G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), Dan Bishop (R-N.C.), and David Price (D-N.C.) submitted H.R. 2758 (Lumbee Acknowledge Act) on Thursday, April 22.
“I am proud to reintroduce this bill to right a historic wrong by finally extending the Lumbee Tribe the full federal recognition they deserve,” Rep. Butterfield said in a statement. “In the case of the Lumbee, it is well past time for Congress to exercise its authority. Now is the time for this Congress to stand on the right side of history and fully recognize the Lumbee.”
Rep. Bishop, Congressman from North Carolina’s 9th District which includes Robeson County where a majority of people who identify as Lumbee live and vote, noted Lumbee recognition has been one of his “top priorities”. He said in a statement, “It is a tragedy the federal government has denied members of the Lumbee Tribe their rightful Native American heritage, and I am hopeful Congress will address this obvious injustice.”
For years, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) have opposed federal recognition for the Lumbees. Multiple Principal Chiefs have testified in Washington, D.C. against their acknowledgement including Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed. With this latest bill introduction though, Chief Sneed declined to comment. EBCI officials have questioned the heritage of the Lumbee who have formerly been called the Croatan Indians, the Indians of Robeson County, and the Cherokee Indians of Robeson County.
The current bill is an identical piece of legislation that was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Nov. 16, 2020 and went on to die in the U.S. Senate. As with that legislation, if passed, H.R. 2758 would set the Lumbee tribal service area for those tribal members residing in Robeson, Cumberland, Hoke, and Scotland counties in eastern North Carolina. The State of North Carolina would have jurisdiction over “all criminal offenses that are committed; and all civil actions that arise” within the tribal land base. The legislation states that the Lumbee Tribe could petition to take some jurisdiction over their lands after two years of the passage of the Act.
The EBCI isn’t the only tribe in opposition. In a joint letter with Chief Sneed in November 2020, Cyrus Ben, Chief of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, addressed concerns, “For over a century, the Lumbees have claimed to be Cherokee, Croatan, Siouan, Cheraw, Tuscorora, 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.”
For years, the Lumbees were unable to go through the federal acknowledgment process due to an interpretation of the 1956 Lumbee Act. That changed with a 2016 memorandum from the Interior Department’s Office of the Solicitor that paved the way for them to pursue federal acknowledgment through the Department petition process.
To date, the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina has not submitted a petition for acknowledgment to go through that process.