WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Richard Burr and U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger on Thursday introduced the Lumbee Recognition Act in both houses, a bill that would grant the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina full federal recognition.
North Carolina formally recognized the Lumbee Tribe in 1885, and three years later, in 1888, the tribe began its quest for federal recognition. In 1956, Congress passed legislation recognizing the tribe, but it included a caveat — the Lumbees were prevented from receiving federal benefits.
“I’m proud to reintroduce this legislation so that the 55,000 members of the Lumbee community in North Carolina receive the same rights and benefits as members of other federally recognized tribes,” said Burr, a Republican as is Pittenger. “The Lumbee tribe has been seeking recognition for more than a century. This is long overdue. I want to thank Rep. Pittenger for working with me to advance this important cause.”
On Thursday, Pittenger said the tribe has recently been hurt by the lack of recognition.
“As a result, the Lumbee Tribe is not eligible for vital economic development programs through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and following Hurricane Matthew were unable to receive disaster relief in the manner normally available to other federally-recognized tribes,” a press release from Pittenger’s office stated.
“The Lumbee Tribe deserves the same recognition and benefits as other federally recognized tribes,” Pittenger said. “This is about fairness and providing equal opportunities to encourage economic growth. Thank you to Sen. Burr for working with me, on behalf of the Lumbees, to correct this century-old wrong.”
The Lumbee Recognition Act, HR 2352, will be sent to the house Committee on Natural Resources for consideration.
Lumbee Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin Jr. thanked both Burr and Pittenger for standing by the Lumbee people as they seek full federal recognition. He said his great-grandfather, Quinny Godwin, was among the first petitioners for federal recognition back in the late 1880s.
“With Sen. Burr and Rep. Pittenger standing by the Lumbee people there is more traction than in the past,” said Godwin. “We have a greater opportunity now to receive federal recognition than we have in the past.”
Jarrod Lowery, who chairs the 21-member Lumbee Tribal Council’s Federal Recognition Committee, said he is optimistic that this time Congress will pass the Lumbee Recognition Bill and it will be signed into law by President Donald Trump.
“This bill corrects the wrongs of the past and will give us our full benefits,” Lowery said. “This will enable the Lumbee Tribe to have economic impact in Southeastern North Carolina rivaled only by The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.”
With more than 55,000 members, the Lumbee Tribe is the largest American Indian tribe east of the Mississippi River. Full Lumbee recognition could mean hundreds of millions of dollars a year that would flow into the region to enhance economic development, health care and educational opportunities for tribal members.
Former U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre was a strong proponent of recognition, and actually got the legislation passed in the House, but it could never win Senate approval.
Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @ MikeGellatly. Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.