Lumbee Tribe Bill Opposed by Several Indian Tribes

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Dancers perform at the annual Lumbee Spring Pow Wow in Lumberton.

Dancers perform at the annual Lumbee Spring Pow Wow in Lumberton.


Lumberton Visitors Bureau

Nine Native American tribes have sent a letter to the US Senate opposing a bill that would grant federal recognition to the Lumbee.

North Carolina’s largest tribe, with more than 50,000 members centered around Robeson County, the Lumbee have sought recognition for decades – a status enjoyed only by the eastern band of the Cherokee in North Carolina.

At a hearing last fall, Sen. Richard Burr counted 29 recognition bills introduced over the past 33 years — 15 by Democrats and 14 by Republicans.

The Cherokee have long stood in the way of the Lumbee, in part because of fears that the federal dollars given to recognized tribes will dwindle.

But the letter, sent Friday, shows the opposition runs deeper than North Carolina or just along the silver lines.

Along with Senior Cherokee Chief Richard Sneed, the letter is signed by leaders of the Shawnee, Mississippi Band of Choctaw, Fort Sill Apache, Delaware Nation, Chickasaw Nation, Delaware Tribe of Indians, Fort Belknap Tribe of Indians, and United Indian Nations of Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas.

They argue that the US Department of the Interior, not Congress, should decide on tribal recognition, ensuring that such decisions are based on connection to historical tribes and not just politics.

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Billy Hunt of Pembroke, North Carolina talks about his handmade Lumbee Indian traditional attire to students at Little River Elementary in the gymnasium in 2005. File photo

“Often,” the letter says, “groups seeking federal recognition claim tribal identities that do not belong to them. Even more often, people who claim to be descendants of known historic tribes cannot demonstrate tribal ancestry or native ancestry.

The Lumbee’s chances are seen as closer this year as the bill passed the House and won the support of their two senators, who are Republicans. Former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden have also backed Lumbee’s fight in the presidential election.

Lumbee’s story

The Lumbee’s history complicated their fight for recognition.

The tribe did not exist before the arrival of Europeans in North Carolina, when a variety of Indians gathered in the swamps around Robeson County, fleeing war and disease.

They mingled with the tribes who had already holed up there, mixing several languages. Unlike other tribes, many Lumbee adopted Christianity and land ownership which they had learned from white settlers.

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Evert Locklear, 102, one of the oldest members of the Lumbee tribe, explains how religion has helped his longevity during an interview at his home on Tuesday, November 30, 2021 in Maxton, North Carolina Robert Willett [email protected]

Two years ago, the Choctaw Band of Indians of Mississippi and the Eastern Band of the Cherokee argued in a letter to Congress that the Lumbee had never been able to demonstrate a historical or genealogical connection to a historic tribe.

In a letter to Congress last year, the Indian Nations of Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas asked how the Lumbee could number 55,000 members and avoid detection by federal authorities “when gathering southeastern tribes and forced them to follow eviction leads.”

“The Lumbee should be given a fair chance at federal recognition as a tribe through the (Department of Interior) process,” the letter read. “The (department) has genealogists, historians, anthropologists, and other experts who can properly assess whether a group is a historic tribe or a confederation of historic tribes composed of people descended from the historic tribe or tribes.”

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Dancers perform at the annual Lumbee Spring Pow Wow in Lumberton. Lumberton Visitors Bureau

“It’s been a long time coming”

The office of Lumbee Tribe Chairman John Lowery did not respond to questions on Tuesday.

But James Locklear, editor and publisher of Native Visions magazine in Pembroke, said opposition from other tribes, while disappointing, will not sink the bill.

“This bill has a lot of momentum now and it’s been a long time coming,” he said. “Our people have always been indigenous. Our people have been here since the beginning. There have been people in Robeson County and the surrounding county for 10,000 years.

He added that other tribes in the western United States could learn from the Lumbee, especially in terms of education and business success.

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James Locklear, editor of Native Voices in Pembroke, expects the Lumbee Tribe to gain full federal recognition after more than a century of trying. Josh Shaffer

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Josh Shaffer is a general-assignment reporter on the lookout for “talkers,” which are stories you might discuss over a water cooler. He has worked for The News & Observer since 2004 and previously wrote a column about unusual people and places.

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