Indianz.Com > News > Key Senate leader seeks hearing on Lumbee Tribe federal recognition
In a social media post on May 5, 2021, the Lumbee Tribe thanked participants in the “Miles for MMMIWG” run in recognition of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in North Carolina. Photo: Lumbee Tribe
Key Senate leader seeks hearing on Lumbee Tribe federal recognition
Wednesday, May 12, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A key leader in the U.S. Senate intends to move forward with a bill to extend federal recognition to the Lumbee Tribe.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) announced his support for a hearing on S.1364, the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina Recognition Act, on Wednesday. His position is crucial as he serves as chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the legislative panel with jurisdiction over tribal matters.

“The Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina Recognition Act deserves a full and fair hearing before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs,” Schatz said in a statement. “Congress’ constitutional authority to recognize Indian tribes must be exercised with due diligence, and the first step is a legislative hearing.”

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) serves as chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. Photo: SCIA

The Lumbee Tribe, based in North Carolina, is in a unique political and legal situation with the United States. In 1956, during the height of the disastrous termination era of federal policy, Congress enacted a law identifying the Lumbees as “Indians” while denying them full recognition as a tribal nation.

S.1364 rectifies the situation by repealing the termination-era language and confirming that the Lumbees are eligible for federal services, benefits and other programs that are open to other recognized tribes.

“For more than 130 years, the Lumbees have sought the same federal recognition that other tribes across the nation enjoy,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-North Carolina), who introduced the bill on April 26. “This federal recognition will help the Lumbee people not only improve their economy, but enhance their health care systems and schools.

“Despite broad bipartisan support of this legislation over the last three decades, Congress has yet to act on this important bill,” Burr continued. “This has been a grave disservice to the Lumbee people and the rich culture the tribe contributes to North Carolina. It’s time to get this done. I urge the Senate to swiftly pass this bill.”

“The Lumbee Tribe has been fighting for more than a century to gain federal recognition and, as long as I’m in the U.S. Senate, I’m going to continue my work to make sure this happens,” added Sen. Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina), a co-sponsor of the legislation. “I am proud to co-introduce this legislation again and continue my work with Senator Burr to get this legislation across the finish line.”

Chairman Harvey Godwin, Jr, of the Lumbee Tribe testifies before the U.S. House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States on December 4, 2019. A bill to extend federal recognition to the tribe passed the U.S. House of Representatives during the 116th Congress but failed to get over the finish line in the U.S. Senate. Photo: House Committee on Natural Resources, Democrats

Historically, the U.S. Senate has been less than receptive to the Lumbee Tribe. The chamber has consistently failed to take action even when the U.S. House of Representatives has passed federal recognition bills in the past.

But supporters, and the tribe itself, are hoping for a different outcome in the 117th Congress, where Democrats control both chambers of the U.S. government’s legislative arm. The House version of the bill is H.R.2758, which enjoys backing from members of both political parties.

“The leadership of this bipartisan team inspires us, and will be crucial in advancing this bill through the House,” Chairman Harvey Godwin, Jr., said of H.R.2758, which was introduced on April 22.

During the 2020 presidential campaign, federal recognition for the tribe became a focus of both the Republican and Democratic parties. During the race, Joe Biden, who won the election despite failing to carry the state of North Carolina, said he supported federal recognition for the tribe. When he served as vice president, the Barack Obama administration backed federal recognition as well.

Despite the high-level attention, the Lumbees face a formidable foe. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians — whose sovereign status has already been recognized by the United States, through an act of Congress, incidentally — has long opposed federal recognition for the Lumbee Tribe largely out of legitimacy concerns. The Eastern Band is also based in North Carolina.

Schatz has not yet announced a hearing date for S.1364. His statement about the bill came after the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs took testimony from Native tourism leaders and federal officials about the impacts of COVID-19 on Native communities.

The Lumbee Tribe is headquartered in Robeson County in North Carolina. If enacted into law, S.1364 would treat any land-into-trust application within the county as an “on reservation” acquisition. The bill defines Robeson, Cumberland, Hoke, and Scotland as reservation areas for the tribe.

The tribe has about 55,000 people on its rolls. S.1364 requires the Department of the Interior to undertake a “verification” process of the Lumbee roll.

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