By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
A bill to give federal recognition to the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina has again been introduced in Congress. The bill, HR184, was introduced by Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC), who represents North Carolina’s 8th District which encompasses Robeson County where the Lumbee tribal seat is located, and Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) who represents the 1st District and is the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has long opposed the federal recognition of the Lumbee. “The Lumbee recognition bill is an attempt, once again, for the Lumbee to circumvent the Bureau of Indian Affairs process for federal recognition,” said Principal Chief Michell Hicks. “The Lumbee have failed to meet the criteria to prove their claim of being a legitimate Native Nation and are relying on the sympathy of legislators to gain federal recognition.
The EBCI released the following statement on the issue on Friday, Jan. 9:
“Some individuals in Robeson County first claimed to be ‘Indian’ in the 1880s in a successful effort to get schools separate from the children of freed slaves. The ‘Indian’ claims were followed by decades of looking to non-Indian politicians and anthropologists to provide research and a justification for a tribal identity claim. Following the non-Indian research, the Lumbee have claimed to be ‘Croatan’ (based on a Lost Colony of Roanoke theory, now disproven), ‘Siouan’ (a Native language family, not a tribe), Tuscarora, Cheraw, and Cherokee. In fact, for forty years, the Lumbee sought to appropriate Cherokee identity and claimed to be a Cherokee tribe, over our strong objections. The State of North Carolina accepted this appropriation and formally acknowledged the Lumbee as ‘the Cherokee Indians of Robeson County’. The Lumbee repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, sought to have the federal government acknowledge them as a Cherokee tribe.”
The EBCI statement goes on to say, “The Lumbee’s current name, ‘the Lumbee Tribe of Cheraw Indians’, is based on a claim to principally Cheraw tribal identity. Based on our review of the history and record, the Eastern Band questions whether the Lumbee can demonstrate that they descend from the Cheraw or any historical tribe. Their decades-long search for a tribal identity underscores this point. Further, we question whether Lumbee individuals – maybe not a single one – can demonstrate Indian ancestry through genealogy from a Cheraw Indian from the historical Cheraw tribe. These hard truths form the basis for our policy position that Cherokee leaders have held for decades – the Eastern Band opposes federal legislation that would extend federal acknowledgment as an Indian tribe to the Lumbee in North Carolina. We simply believe that the Lumbee case for federal acknowledgment lacks merit. The Eastern Band’s concerns about Lumbee identity appropriation arose decades before gaming or other issues in recent history.”
The EBCI statement concludes by saying, “Because the Lumbee claim approximately 55,000 members, they continue to get attention because of their votes. The Eastern Band strongly believes that decisions about federal acknowledgment of groups as Indian tribes should be based on merit and not politics. The federal acknowledgment process at the OFA is the right body to consider a Lumbee petition.”
Gary Strickland Jr., Lumbee public affairs manager speaking on behalf of Lumbee Tribal Chairman Paul Brooks, told the Fayetteville Observer, “Federal recognition would greatly benefit not only our tribal members throughout the tribal territory, but the greater region and state. Federal recognition for our tribe is long overdue. We will never give up the fight that our forefathers began more than 120 years ago.”
Similar bills have been introduced and passed by the House in 2007 and 2009, but both stalled in the Senate. HR184 is now in the hands of the House Natural Resources Committee.