Lumbee Tribe hopes for resolution of federal status
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In 1888, 45 Lumbee ancestors asked the United States government for federal recognition. The tribe has been waiting for an answer ever since.

But with a key opponent out of the way and a prominent new advocate on their side, today's 50,000 Lumbees hope their long-delayed dream will finally become reality. Efforts to recognize the tribe through Congressional means have picked up steam in recent months and could culminate in the passage of a bill this year.

"We want no less than any other tribe in this country," said first-time chairman Milton Hunt on Native America Calling yesterday.

If recognized, the Lumbee Tribe will be one of the largest the nation. Millions of dollars in housing, education, health and other federal benefits would flow to the tribe's traditional territory in eastern North Carolina.

For the first time in history, most the state's Congressional delegation are firmly behind the tribe.(*) Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R), a former Cabinet member, and Rep. Mike McIntyre (D) have introduced measures in the Senate and House, respectively, to recognize the tribe.

"She's committed to making this happen," said Mary Brown Brewer, Dole's communications director. "You've got some commitment that maybe hasn't been there in the past."

The legislation is necessary because the tribe is blocked from seeking recognition through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. A federal law passed during the height of the termination area of the 1950s leaves the tribe in limbo, said Arlinda Locklear, a prominent Indian law scholar and tribal member.

"That termination language means the tribe is not eligible for the Bureau of Indian Affairs administrative process," she said on the radio program.

Past administrations and ex-Sen. Jesse Helms (R) were obstacles to full recognition of the tribe. Helms retired from the Senate. The Bush Department of Interior doesn't have a comment about the legislation yet.

There are lingering doubts about the tribe's eligibility. Critics say the Lumbee lack a language and discernible Indian culture.

Tribal members acknowledge the first complaint but note that most Eastern tribes, due to early and sustained contact with European immigrants, are often in the same boat. And tribes in the West face the same problem too.

But they dismiss talk that the Lumbee people are not Indian. Citing a tight-knit community, Milton said there is no doubt of the tribe's legitimacy.

"How are you supposed to look to be an Indian?" he asked. "It's just an excuse people are using not to support us."

Dole's first act as a member of the Senate was to introduce the Lumbee Acknowledgment Act of 2003. She has been lobbying Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) to hold a hearing. Campbell chairs the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

On the House side, the House Resources Committee would review the bill. So far, neither panel has scheduled hearings.

Paul Moorehead, the Republican staff director on the Indian Affairs Committee, has told tribal leaders that any bill that stands a chance of becoming law in the next two years has to clear the floor by the summer. Otherwise, it will be lost in the upcoming 2004 election cycle, he said.

* Ed. Note: Rep. Charles Taylor (R-N.C.), a member of the Congressional Native American Caucus, and Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) don't support the recognition bill. On March 20, they introduced a separate bill to lift the BIA's prohibition on administrative recognition of the Lumbee Tribe. The tribe would have to apply for recognition through the BIA.

Get the Bills:
S.420 | H.R.898

Relevant Links:
Official Lumbee Tribe website -
Lumbee Regional Development Association -

Related Stories:
Lumbee tribal members debate extent of territory (3/7)
Opinion: Approve recognition of Lumbee Tribe (2/27)
Group says Lumbee recognition means casino (2/26)
Sen. Dole backs Lumbee recognition bill (02/19)
Lumbee Tribe seeks support fot federal status (2/18)
Lumbee recognition bill to be delayed (01/09)
Lumbee Tribe hopes for recognition (11/27)