PEMBROKE — After a visit last week to the White House, the chairman of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina is ready to put a timetable on federal recognition, saying he will be disappointed if that does not happen during the calendar year.
Harvey Godwin Jr. has become a familiar face among leaders in Washington, and as he touts the need for Lumbee recognition with members of Congress, senior White House staff and bureaucrats overseeing federal agencies, he is becoming more optimistic that federal recognition is near.
Godwin’s latest venture to Washington landed him a special invitation from the White House to attend a gathering Tuesday of small business leaders from across the country at a dinner and information session where the keynote speaker was President Donald Trump. The topic of the meeting was “American Small Businesses — the Engine for the American Dream.”
Although he didn’t personally speak with the president, Godwin was able to mingle with senior White House staff, high ranking officials with the the U.S. Small Business Administration, and major small businessmen from across the country.
Godwin said he is not aware of any other Lumbee chairman having the opportunity to attend such an event at the White House or having access to senior White House staff, who he said have indicated they support the tribe receiving federal recognition and will work to make that happen.
Godwin called his attendance both “humbling” and “exciting.” He also said he takes his constitutional responsibility for representing his people before other governments very seriously.
“The Lumbee Constitution states that the chairman represents the tribe before all other governments and tribunals, including the United States, the state of North Carolina, and all federal and state agencies,” Godwin said.
While in Washington, D.C., late last month, Godwin met with Sen. Richard Burr, North Carolina’s senior senator, Rep. Robert Pittenger, whose 9th District includes all of Robeson County, and Rep. Richard Hudson, whose 8th District includes large Lumbee populations in Hoke and part of Cumberland counties. All are Republicans.
Possible options to pursue in order to move the Lumbee Recognition Act as quickly as possible through both the Senate and House were discussed.
Godwin said that in addition to the support of the three Republican members of Congress and the Trump administration, Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has officially pledged his support for full federal recognition and there has been a resolution of support passed by the N.C. Commission of Indian Affairs.
“These endorsements are vital,” Godwin said.
On Friday, Pittenger said in a statement that it is time to grant the Lumbee people their long overdue federal recognition.
“The Lumbees have for over a century been subject to a moral and equitable wrong, through lack of full federal recognition. Working together with Sen. Burr and Congressman Hudson, I am committed to reversing this wrong,” Pittenger said. “Last week, Congressman Hudson and I met with Chairman Bishop and Chairman LaMalfa to discuss the merits of our legislation and options going forward. They want to work with us in any way achievable. We will continue pursuing all legislative and executive avenues and knocking on every door until we succeed in behalf of the Lumbee Tribe.”
U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop is chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources and Doug LaMalfa is chairman of the Subcommittee on Indian Affairs.
Godwin believes there are several factors that are helping recognition efforts move forward at this time, the most important being that advocates of Lumbee recognition are finally getting members of the Congress and others to understand what being a Lumbee is all about.
“In the meetings we’ve had there has been the opportunity for me to introduce our history and way of life,” said Godwin. “They have learned about our culture and our people … . We have talked about our positives, such as creating jobs. We have talked about our entrepreneurs, Small Business Administration certification and other things.”
Godwin said that full federal recognition will not only help the Lumbee Tribe, but will result in many benefits for Robeson County. Estimates are that hundreds of millions of dollars could come into the county for housing, health care and economic development.
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 Lumbee, a tribe of about 55,000 members, to receive federal benefits granted other federally recognized tribes.
The closest the tribe has come to full recognition was 2009, when former Rep. Mike McIntyre ushered a bill through the House, with it being approved on June 3 of that year in a 240 to 179 vote. The bill went to the U.S. Senate, whose Committee on Indian Affairs approved the legislation, which did not allow gaming. The Senate adjourned that session without ever taking action on the bill.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.