PEMBROKE — Supporters of Lumbee recognition are banking on next week’s hearing before a U.S. House subcommittee to move the proposed Lumbee Recognition Act forward.
A hearing on the bill, sponsored by Rep. Robert Pittenger, whose 9th District includes Robeson County, and Rep. Richard Hudson, whose 8th District previously included Robeson County, is scheduled for Tuesday before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian, Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs.
Earlier this month, Pittenger was host of a meeting with Lumbee Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin Jr. and committee Chairman Rob Bishop, of Utah, during which Pittenger urged a hearing on the recognition legislation. Pittenger said Tuesday that he is encouraged because the chairman agreed to a hearing.
“This is the next step in bringing Lumbee recognition up for a vote,” Pittenger said. “The Lumbee Tribe has sought full federal recognition since 1888. We are working closely with the Lumbee Tribe and other leaders to ensure a strong showing next Tuesday.”
Pittenger said Bishop “respects” the Lumbee Tribe and wants to give tribal members the possibility of giving members of Congress all the details of what the tribe has accomplished over the years. Bishop believes the current process of granting recognition to American Indian tribes is wrong and needs to be changed, Pittenger said.
“Bishop does not believe tribes should have to go through the Bureau of Indian Affairs to be granted recognition,” Pittenger said. “He believes Congress should have the decision to grant recognition and it should not be in the hands of a few bureaucrats.”
Pittenger praised Godwin for his leadership of the Lumbee Tribe and his efforts to gain for his people full federal recognition. Godwin was elected chairman in November 2015.
“Godwin has led his people with integrity,” Pittenger said.
Godwin told The Robesonian that Tuesday’s hearing is a big step in the federal recognition process.
“I’m very grateful to go to the next step in the recognition process.” he said. “I’m excited that we will be able to tell our story to the House members and hope to make it understood what has already been told to the Senate. Hopefully they will understand that they need to come together with the Senate and do what should have been done years ago.”
Godwin said that because the tribe doesn’t have paid lobbyists to promote their interests, tribal members are becoming involved in the recognition process.
“Every Lumbee is a lobbyist,” he said.
When he and others speak to the committee on Tuesday they will be emphasizing how full recognition for the Lumbee Tribe will not only help tribal members, but will spur economic growth in Robeson County and the surrounding region, Godwin said.
“Recognition will benefit not only the Lumbee, but everyone,” he said.
Jarrod Lowery, chairman of the Lumbee Tribal Council’s Federal Recognition Committee, said he is “excited” that the tribe will have an opportunity to state their case to committee members.
“You have to keep a steady drumbeat, and in the past couple of years we have been pushing really hard,” Lowery said. “We are making Congress know we are still here and what we need.”
If the subcommittee gives a thumbs up to the legislation, the Lumbee Recognition Act will be sent to the full Natural Resources Committee, Pittenger said. The full committee will vote on whether or not the bill should be sent to the House floor for a vote.
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 tribe was prevented from receiving federal benefits.
With 55,000 members, the Lumbee Tribe is the largest tribe east of the Mississippi River.
Reach Bob Shiles at 910-416-5165.