Local News

U.S. House Committee Approves Lumbee Recognition

Posted April 25, 2007 8:21 p.m. EDT
Updated April 25, 2007 9:16 p.m. EDT

— A U.S. House committee approved full federal recognition for the Lumbee Indians of North Carolina on Wednesday, despite an opposing vote by the state's only representative on the panel.

Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., was one of seven members to vote against the bill, which would allow the Lumbees to get federal aid and benefits given to other tribes.

The Lumbees have been seeking federal status for more than a century, and those in favor of recognizing the tribe say it's long overdue. The tribe, which has 50,000 members, could receive $80 million annually with federal recognition.

"After centuries of injustice, the Lumbees have waited long enough in their quest for much-deserved recognition from the federal government to acknowledge who they truly are — an American Indian Tribe," said Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources.

A 1956 law bars the tribe from applying for recognition through the U.S. Department of the Interior, which is why officials have sought congressional action.

"A lot of prayers have been answered on behalf of the Lumbee people,” said tribal chairman Jimmy Goins.

Shuler, whose district includes the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, has said he prefers a different approach for giving the Lumbees recognition. He is sponsoring a bill that would allow the Lumbees to go through the Bureau of Indian Affairs' process for gaining recognition, which involves looking at genealogy and history of the tribe.

"We're basically allowing the Lumbee to circumvent that process," Shuler spokesman Andrew Whalen said of the bill that the committee approved 24-7. "It's an issue of fairness to other tribes."

Shuler's bill would require the Department of the Interior to act on an application from the tribe within 18 months.

Three North Carolina Republicans, including Reps. Patrick McHenry, Walter Jones and Virginia Foxx, support Shuler's bill.

But Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., applauded Rahall and other committee members' efforts to move forward with recognizing the Lumbees.

"The long-sought and long overdue recognition for the Lumbee Indians has crossed a milestone," McIntyre said in a statement.

Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., also applauded the committee's passage and said she would urge rapid committee consideration of the Lumbee bill in the Senate.

"This quest is about allowing future generations of Lumbees to benefit from the recognition for which their ancestors have tirelessly fought," Dole said in a statement.

Some have expressed concern that the Lumbees might build a casino if they were fully recognized. But the committee adopted an amendment, accepted by the tribe, that would prohibit the tribe from engaging in gaming activities.

Goins said such a move wasn't under consideration by tribal leaders.

“My people are very spiritual people,” he said said. “It has never been a factor in our decision to push this bill."