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Lumbee leaders defend closed meeting about gaming consultant

Posted May 8, 2010
Updated May 9, 2010

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— Officials of a North Carolina Indian tribe are defending a closed meeting to discuss details of a deal with a gaming consultant that leaders hope will help the tribe earn federal recognition.

The Fayetteville Observer reported Saturday that the Lumbee tribal council invited the entire tribe to Friday night's meeting at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. The meeting was closed to the media and to non-members of the tribe.

At least one tribe member who opposes the agreement with Las Vegas-based Lewin International said closing the meeting was unfair. Tribe spokesman Alex Baker defended the closed meeting, saying it was a family issue.

"You deserve to hear the facts of this situation from your elected leader, not from non-tribal press looking to sell papers and sow dissension within our tribe," said a letter sent to tribal members when announcing the meeting.

North Carolina Press Association attorney Amanda Martin says the meeting was legal because no federal or state laws regarding open meetings apply to the Lumbee tribe.

The Lumbees have spent decades trying to win recognition, which would give them access to federal funds through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and offer them privileges of a sovereign nation.

The tribal council approved the contract with Lewin during an unpublicized March meeting. The deal calls for Lewin to be paid nothing if it doesn't secure federal recognition for the Lumbees. If the company is successful, it would have exclusive rights to develop a casino, and if the tribe were to vote down gambling on its land, the Lumbees would owe Lewin $35 million.

The recognition bill that has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and is in the Senate prohibits the tribe from getting into the gambling business.

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Information from: The Fayetteville Observer

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