WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Richard Burr told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on Wednesday that the protracted delay on federal recognition for the Lumbee Tribe is “unjust.”
“This (denying recognition) is nothing short of discrimination,” said Burr, a former member of the Indian Affairs committee. “The tribe was somewhat recognized by Congress in 1956, but was prevented eligibility to services that other federally recognized tribes receive … This is simply unjust and immoral.”
There was no action taken Wednesday on the proposed Lumbee Recognition Act. The proceeding was a chance to provide testimony to committee members. Burr was joined at the hearing by Harvey Godwin Jr., chairman of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, who also testified.
Both the House and Senate must approve the bill before recognition can be granted. There is a similar bill that has been sitting in a House committee since Jan. of 2015. No hearing has been held on that bill.
Burr, the state’s senior senator, summarized the history behind the tribe’s quest that began in 1888. The tribe received state recognition three years earlier.
“The tribe in 1989 was denied for the third time, and it was determined that it could not go through the Bureau of Indian Affairs to get recognized,” the fifth-term Republican said. “To be recognized it must be an act of Congress, and that is why we are here today.”
Burr challenged the committee to explain how Congress could grant four other tribes recognition by an act of Congress, but leave the Lumbees out.
“They are not asking for a handout, just a hand up,” Burr said. “…It was Congress who put the Lumbees in this situation in 1956. They are just asking Congress to right this wrong for current and future generations.”
Godwin told the committee that federal recognition would boost economic opportunities for the tribe, but also help maintain cultural identity. He said there is a lot of discrimination toward the Lumbees, even by federally recognized tribes who fail to consider Lumbees as Indians.
“I remember as a young boy watching westerns wanting to be a cowboy rather than the Indian because we were denied identification as Indian, ” Godwin said.
Recognition would also aid economic development throughout southeastern North Carolina, according to Godwin.
“We have already created business partners even without recognition,” Godwin said. “But recognition would certainly serve as leverage to build on the business relationships we have already established.”
Also testifying at the hearing was Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, senior policy adviser to the acting assistant secretary of Indian Affairs. She told the committee that her agency supports the Lumbee Recognition Act with just a few minor changes. The changes she said, were noted in documentation already presented to the committee.
The Lumbee Tribe is the largest tribe east of the Mississippi River, estimated to have more than 55,000 members. If granted federal recognition, it would mean hundreds of millions of dollars for the tribe for economic development, education and health care.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.