Lumbee leaders to explain controversial consulting contract
Leaders of the Lumbee Indians of North Carolina are defending a new strategy for federal recognition, and plan to explain their decisions to tribe members.Posted — Updated
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 recently approved a contract with Lewin International to represent the Lumbees in their bid for federal recognition. The move was made during a March council meeting that wasn't publicized.
"The tribe says the reason they're doing this is for resources. They want to have access to someone who can contact members of Congress," said Lawrence Locklear, a former member of the tribal council. "(It's) evident from looking at the contract (that) it's about gaming from the get-go."
Lewin specializes in gambling, and the contract states the firm will pursue a bill in Congress that would allow the Lumbees the option of opening a casino on tribal land in Robeson County.
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 question that's being asked is where is that money going to come from," Locklear said.
Tribal spokesman Alex Baker declined to comment Friday, calling the issue "an internal tribal matter."
"We'll keep it in the family," Baker said.
When council members announced the meeting on the University of North Carolina at Pembroke campus, they prohibited the media from attending.
"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," the letter sent to tribal members said.
The recognition bill now in the U.S. Senate prohibits the tribe from getting into the gambling business.
"Because we're pursuing gambling, it hurts our credibility," Locklear said.
U.S. Sen. Richard Burr said he continues to support recognition for the Lumbees, but he said gaming will complicate the process.
"It's hard for the United States to pre-condition recognition. They agreed to no gaming to get passage in the House. I can't disagree with that route. That's a decision they made," Burr said.
The letter from the tribal council said that the Lumbees have the sole authority to decide whether the tribe has gaming activities.