Local News

Lumbee Indians Head To Washington To Seek Federal Recognition

Posted September 15, 2003 4:49 a.m. EDT

— This week, Lumbee Indians take their long fight for federal recognition to Washington. They will present their case to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Wednesday. The tribe says it will be a vital step in their struggle.

It was important to her grandfather, and now it is important to Kimberly Chavis. She wants her tribe federally recognized for the sake of her children.

"It's as if Native Americans have been put on the back burner for all my life. I think that would be one of the reasons it would be most important for my family," she said.

In 1956, Congress acknowledged Lumbee Indians, but it withheld tribal privileges, such as federal funding for health care and housing. The Lumbees have fought for full privileges ever since.

"You hold a position in Indian affairs that really you are excluded from and that's the sad scenario in this," said Greg Richardson, of the N.C. Commission on Indian Affairs.

On Sept. 17, the Lumbees have another chance to make their case. Leaders will head to Washington for a Congressional hearing. With the backing of Sen. Elizabeth Dole and John Edwards and State Rep. Mike McIntryre, many believe there is momentum.

With a population of 55,000 people, Lumbee is the largest tribe east of the Mississippi. Many live in Robeson County and other surrounding counties.

At a recent Indian Health Summit, leaders said the most pressing need for the Lumbees is health care.

"Indian people are proud people. If they can't pay, they won't come," said the Rev. Michael Cummings, of the Burn and Swamp Baptist Association.

The last time the Lumbees went in front of a Senate committee was 15 years ago. A vote to federally recognize the tribe failed in 1991. The Cherokees, the only tribe in North Carolina that is federally recognized, are against the movement as well as some family groups, who worry recognition will lead to gaming.