By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Staff
Several other federally recognized tribes and tribal organizations have joined with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) to oppose groups seeking federal recognition as an Indian tribe through Congressional means. A letter was sent to Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) who serve as the chairperson and vice chairperson for the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on Monday, Feb. 28 that was signed by Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed and eight more tribal leaders.
The letter states, “…we respectfully request that you defer consideration of groups seeking federal acknowledgment to the Department of the Interior’s Office of Federal Acknowledgment (OFA).”
The letter is signed by Chief Sneed; Chief Ben Barnes, Shawnee Tribe; Chief Cyrus Ben, Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians; Chairwoman Lori Gooday Ware, Fort Sill Apache Tribe; President Deborah Dotson, Delaware Nation; Gov. Bill Anoatubby, Chickasaw Nation; Assistant Chief Jeremy Johnson, Delaware Tribe of Indians; President Jeffrey Stiffarm, Fort Belknap Indian Community; and Chairwoman Margo Gray, United Indian Nations of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas.
The letter went on to state, “Federally acknowledged tribes are sovereigns with significant governmental powers impacting both Indians and non-Indians, including the authority to tax, regulate activity within tribal territory, and take away personal freedoms through the exercise of criminal jurisdiction. Acknowledgment decisions should be made on merit and not politics.”
As of now, a total of four bills have been introduced into Congress that would provide federal recognition to a group including:
- H.R. 2758 Lumbee Recognition Act; introduced on April 22, 2021; passed by House 357-59 on Nov. 1, 2021
- S. 3443 MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians Recognition Act; introduced on Jan. 5, 2022
- H.R. 1942 Waccamaw Indian Acknowledgment Act; introduced on March 16, 2021; referred to the House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States on May 14, 2021
- H.R. 1943 Pee Dee Indian Acknowledgment Act; introduced on March 16, 2021; referred to the House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States on May 14, 2021
The tribal leaders state in the letter, “If the Congress enacts any of these bills, hundreds of other groups claiming to be tribes also will seek federal legislation to circumvent the OFA process.”
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 Sneed. 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 (H.R. 2758) for the Lumbees 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.
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, none of the four groups mentioned above have submitted a petition for acknowledgment to go through that process.