LUMBERTON — The Lumbee Indians are one step closer to getting the federal benefits they've been asking for for decades, the same benefits Indian tribes throughout the country already have.
A bill co-sponsored by US congressman Mike McIntyre that would help get the Lumbees official recognition has passed a major hurdle. Local tribe members believe the move finally has the support needed.
"Lots of people that are not even here now, that have died and moved on, have fought for this for a longtime," says Lumberton City Councilman and Lumbee Indian Leon Maynor.
Maynor is talking about the Lumbee Indians effort to get national recognition. That recognition would provide federal benefits, including improved housing, health care and a medical facility of some kind.
"Education," Maynor says. "Lots of kids would hopefully have the opportunity to pursue an education on levels that they've never had that opportunity before."
It's more than the benefits. Maynor says the indian health services has a program to educate indians in the healthcare field. In return, they sign a contract to pay back their education by working on a reservation."
They can't work in their own communities because Lumbees don't have national recognition. But this year there is a renewed sense of optimism among the Lumbees.
"I think the Lumbees as a whole, they've got to come together collectively as a group and work harder," Marla Locklear explains."But yes, it can happen and it will happen. It's just going to take a lot of dedication and hard work."
Lumbee Indians say they're determined to make sure decades of dedication and hard work by their ancestors don't go to waste.
The bill still has to be approved by the full House and Senate.