PEMBROKE — The Lumbee Tribe may have won a victory in its long fight to gain full federal recognition.
The U.S. House gave voice approval on Wednesday to a bill that would grant federal recognition to six American Indian tribes in Virginia that have been seeking that distinction for years. The bill has been sent to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs for its consideration.
An expert on Lumbee recognition says this could benefit the local tribe.
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 was only possible if the Republican leadership was in support of the bill,” said Arlinda Locklear, an attorney who for several years led the Lumbee Tribe’s efforts in Washington to gain full federal recognition. “Like everything in Washington, it’s political. I don’t know what they did to get the political leadership to support the bill.”
Locklear called the action taken by the House a “very pleasant surprise.” In the past, Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee, where recognition bills traditionally are assigned for review and consideration, have opposed tribal recognition bills.
“While this doesn’t portend a clear path for the Lumbee, there is a suggestion that there is now more flexibility than there has been in the past,” Locklear said.
The passage of the Virginia bill has to be a “good sign” for the Lumbee bill, she said.
“Everyone who voted in favor of the bill last week is aware of the Lumbee bill, ” Locklear said. “Anyone who voted in favor is now going to be hard pressed to distinguish this bill from the Lumbee bill.”
There are differences in the 2017 Lumbee Recognition Bill, recently introduced in the House and Senate, and the bill seeking recognition for the Virginia tribes. As noted by the Washington Post, one of the key elements of the Virginia bill that may be making it less controversial is that it prohibits the tribes from operating casinos. The Lumbee bills introduced in the House and Senate allow for the establishment and operation of casinos.
Lumbee Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin Jr. on Monday declined to comment on the recent actions taken by the House, saying he needs more information. Tribal Councilman Jarrod Lowery told the council Thursday the House action could be a positive step in Lumbee recognition efforts.
“If they could get their bill through the House by a voice vote, maybe we can do the same,” said Lowery, chairman of the council’s Federal Recognition Committee. “…I’m watching this closely. I want to find out how we can go about getting a voice vote on our bill.”
U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, whose district includes Robeson County, is the sponsor of the Lumbee Recognition Bill in the House. Pittenger said in a statement on Monday that it will take support of North Carolina’s congressional delegation if the Lumbee bill is to move forward in the House.
“Congressman (Rob) Wittman’s recent legislation benefited from the unified support of Virginia’s congressional delegation. We are seeking similar support from North Carolina’s congressional delegation, and we are in discussions regarding Lumbee recognition with House leadership,” Pittenger said. “This is how you get stuff done in Washington. You knock and push on one door, and then another, and then another, until you find the path forward. That’s my commitment.”
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.