PEMBROKE — The stars are lining up in favor of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina’a long quest to gain federal recognition.
Since May, Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has “officially” requested in a letter to North Carolina’s 13-member congressional delegation that they stand together in support of recognition. U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, both Republicans, have pledged to lead the fight for approval of the Lumbee Recognition Act in the Senate, and U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, a Republican from Charlotte whose 9th District includes all of Robeson County, has said that he will continue “knocking on doors” and working to convince his fellow House members and others that granting the Lumbee Tribe federal recognition is the “right and moral” thing to do.
“This is certainly an important issue, and I’m working hard with our congressional delegation and leadership to move Lumbee recognition forward,” Pittenger said during a stop at The Robesonian on Thursday. “A meeting has been set with the House Majority Leader (Kevin McCarthy) and his staff for next week. We are looking for a way to move forward. We are looking at all of our options.”
Pittenger said that the House voice approval of a bill in May that would grant recognition to six American Indian tribes in Virginia that have been seeking recognition for years may have benefited the Lumbees. Known as the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Federal Recognition Act of 2017, the bill, if it becomes law, grants federal recognition to the Chickahominy, the Eastern Chickahominy, the Upper Mattaponi, the Rappahannock, the Monacan and the Nansemond tribes.
“This does help to make the case for Lumbee recognition stronger,” Pittenger said.
Although optimistic that Lumbee recognition efforts are moving forward, Pittenger acknowledged that there are still obstacles to overcome.
“There are still some who for whatever reasons are opposed,” he said.
Lumbee federal recognition was a key talking point at the State of the Tribe Address ceremony Friday. Harvey Godwin Jr., the tribe’s chairman, said during his address that recognition would not only benefit the Lumbee Tribe but would bolster the economy of Robeson and surrounding counties.
“It’s time for federal recognition now,” Godwin said. “It’s time for federal recognition today.”
Pittenger, in brief remarks at the ceremony, echoed the chairman’s call for the federal government to grant the tribe the full federal recognition it has long deserved.
“Truth prevails,” said Pittenger. “It is right that the Lumbee Tribe get federal recognition. America needs to honor the Lumbee Tribe.”
Although not present for Godwin’s annual State of the Tribe address, Sen. Burr was represented at the event by Janet Bradbury, a field representative. She read a letter from the senator pledging his support and continued efforts to obtain federal recognition for the tribe.
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 the legislation did not provide for the Lumbees, a tribe of about 55,000 members, to receive federal benefits granted other federally recognized tribes.
Federal recognition for the Lumbee could mean hundreds of millions of dollars in federal benefits.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.