WASHINGTON — Several congressional delegates from North Carolina are once again trying to garner federal recognition of the Lumbee Tribe.
Rep. David Rouzer on Friday introduced the Lumbee Fairness Act “to provide full recognition and associated federal protections to the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina.”
Although the Lumbees have been recognized by the state for more than a century, the federal government has yet to do so, despite numerous attempts.
“For generations, the Lumbee have fought for full federal recognition and tribal sovereignty that is long overdue,” Rouzer said in a press release. “I’m proud to champion the Lumbee Fairness Act in the 118th Congress and will continue working to help the Tribe receive the federal protections they are due, including access to the same resources as every other federally recognized tribe.”
The state recognized the Lumbee in 1885. Congress somewhat recognized the tribe with the Lumbee Act of 1956, but denied benefits.
Sen. Thom Tillis has introduced a similar bill to amend that act, however, as of Friday afternoon, there was no text for the bill in online congressional records.
“More than six decades ago, Congress made a promise to recognize the Lumbee Tribe, but then failed to keep it. I’m committed to making sure the Lumbee’s finally get the full recognition they deserve,” said Tillis. “There is broad bipartisan consensus for full federal recognition, earning the unequivocal support of both President Biden and former President Trump, and passing on a bipartisan basis in the House in the last two Congresses. I’m proud to introduce this legislation to uphold the promise to the Lumbee Tribe, and I will continue to work across the aisle to get this legislation across the finish line.”
Tillis and then-Sen. Richard Burr reintroduced the Lumbee Recognition Act in 2021.
“We are grateful to Congressman Rouzer, Senator Tillis and the co-sponsors of the Lumbee Fairness Act,” said Lumbee Tribal Chairman John Lowery. “It has been almost 70 years since the 1956 Act was passed. It is clearly time for Congress to provide the Lumbee People with the benefits that are inherent to federally recognized tribes.”
According to a press release, the Lumbee Tribe boasts 55,000 members, making it the largest tribe in the Eastern United States and ninth-largest in the nation. Most of them live in Robeson, Scotland, Cumberland and Hoke counties.
Rouzer’s bill has bipartisan support from Reps. Richard Hudson, Dan Bishop, Greg Murphy, Deborah Ross, Don Davis and Kathy Manning.
“Though Congress first recognized the Lumbee Tribe in 1956, they were deemed ineligible to receive the rights and benefits provided to federally recognized tribes,”said Bishop. “It’s far past time to remedy this injustice and secure full federal recognition for the Lumbee — and the Lumbee Fairness Act will do just that.
“The Lumbee are some of the most patriotic, hardworking people out there, and have had a continuous and positive presence in North Carolina for three centuries,” Bishop continued. “I’m proud to be a co-sponsor of this legislation, and will continue to fight for the Lumbee Tribe to get the federal recognition they deserve.”
According to Hudson’s office, 31 bills for Lumbee recognition have been filed since 1988.
“Despite broad bipartisan support, Congress has failed to bring this legislation across the finish line,” said Rep. Hudson. “I will continue to be an advocate with my colleagues until the Lumbee tribe receives the federal recognition it rightfully deserves.”
The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians is the only federally recognized tribe in the Tar Heel state, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs.
In addition to the Lumbee and Cherokee, there are six other state-recognized tribes: Coharie, Haliwa-Saponi, Meherrin, Sappony, the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, and the Waccamaw Siouan.
According to the Lumbee Tribe, its ancestors “came together in the shelter of this land hundreds of years ago — survivors of tribal nations from the Algonquian, Iroquoian, and Siouan language families, including the Hatteras, the Tuscarora, and the Cheraw.”
The Cherokee have been steadfast in their opposition toward Lumbee recognition for about a century.
Testifying before a House subcommittee in 2019, Principal Chief Richard Sneed called the Lumbee identity into question and argued that the Lumbee have falsely appropriated the identity of the Cherokee and other tribes.
“The origin and ties of the Lumbee to an historical tribe has been the subject of uncertainty not only among experts in the area but also the Lumbee themselves,” Sneed said.
The Cherokee chief added that the “absence of cultural appurtenances in part identify the Lumbee as part of what sociologist Brewton Berry has termed the ‘marginal Indian groups,’” subsequently described as:
“… communities that hold no reservation land, speak no Indian language, and observe no distinctive Indian customs.
Although it is difficult to establish a firm historical Indian ancestry for them, their members often display physical features that are decidedly Indian. Because they bear no other historic tribal names, they often emphasize a Cherokee ancestry.”
“If Congress recognizes groups whose tribal and individual identity as Indians is seriously in doubt, it will dilute the government-to-government relationships that existing federally recognized tribes have with the United States,” Sneed said at the time.
Sneed also argued that recognizing the Lumbee “would have a huge, negative impact on the budgets of Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service and would decrease even further the sorely needed funds Indian people receive as a result of treaties and trust obligations of the United States to Indians and tribes.”
The cost to the federal government, Sneed estimated, would exceed $1 billion over a five-year period.
The official government website of the EBCI has a section for news of the Lumbee, but the page is currently blank.
The Cherokee also opposed the establishment of a casino in Kings Mountain by the Catawba Nation of South Carolina.