Pembroke, N.C. — After decades of fighting for federal recognition of their tribe, the Lumbees are now facing an odd opponent in their long battle -- another Native American tribe.
In a 24-7 vote last week, a U.S. House committee approved a bill that would make the Lumbees eligible for federal funds received by other tribes. But the Tuscarora Nation of Indians of the Carolinas, another tribe in North Carolina, claim the Lumbees are using Tuscarora history to win their claim for federal recognition.
"No one who did research down here could even tell you where the Lumbees came from. The Lumbees don't even know where the Lumbees came from," said Katherine Magnotta, tribal chairwoman.
The Tuscarora tribe claims about 3,000 members in southeast North Carolina, and members said their ancestors lived by the Lumber River for generations.
"Our people lived on the river. They fished, they got their nutrients, their food out of this river," Magnotta said. "We weren't trying to get recognition. We just wanted to live as Indian people."
The Lumbees claim 56,000 members, most living in Robeson County. The name was given to the tribe in the 1950s and was derived from the Lumber River.
The Lumbee Tribal Council declined to comment on the allegations, but members of the tribe said federal recognition is long overdue and the claim that they've raided the Tuscarora heritage is fiction.
"That kind of talk is another way of keeping us apart. We're all the same," said Willie Lowery, a member of the Lumbee tribe.
"(We would be) getting what all the other Indians have got. We're not asking for a bunch, no more or less," said Duel Dial, a Lumbee member.
Federal recognition could mean more than $80 million a year in government benefits for the Lumbees.
Magnotta said that would be money gained from her river and her heritage.
"The Lumbees have a lot of financial gain by saying we're one and the same people," she said.
The Tuscaroras said they plan to picket U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole's office Friday because of her support for the Lumbee bill.