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Trump gets behind Lumbee recognition, to rally in Lumberton

Posted October 21, 2020 9:54 p.m. EDT
Updated October 22, 2020 6:59 p.m. EDT

— President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he supports legislation pending in Congress that would extend federal recognition to the Lumbee tribe in North Carolina.

The Lumbee Recognition Act would allow members of the tribe to get federal benefits provided to certain groups of Native Americans.

"For more than a century, the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina has sought federal recognition, but has been met with indifference and red tape," Trump said in a statement. "Lumbee Nation is forgotten no more!"

Numerous previous efforts to obtain federal recognition of the tribe have died in Congress since the government gave the Lumbees partial recognition 64 years ago.

"It recognizes the name, but also terminated us from benefits," tribal spokeswoman Danielle McLean said of the 1956 Lumbee Act. "It said, 'You are Indian, your name is Lumbee, but you can't get any services because you're Indian.'"

Trump's move comes as he fights for every vote he can get in North Carolina, a key state in his re-election effort. He even singled out for applause Lumbee members who were at his Wednesday night rally in Gastonia.

The Trump campaign announced Thursday that the president will hold a rally at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the Robeson County Fairgrounds to address how he's "fighting for the forgotten men and women."

"The Lumbee people are excited to have the president's support," Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin Jr. said in a statement. "We have fought for full federal recognition for our people for over a century now. ... I am hopeful that the Lumbee bill will be on the president's desk before the end of the year."

North Carolina recognized the Lumbee tribe in 1885.

The tribe now has about 60,000 members across Robeson, Scotland, Hoke and Cumberland counties, and McLean said full recognition would bring more than just financial benefits.

"It's going to mean additional benefits for health care. It's going to mean educational opportunities, economical development opportunities for the Lumbee tribe," she said. "But more than anything, what it means for our people is to be able to say we are Lumbee and not have to explain what that is."

Janice Locklear, a Lumbee member who owns Eagle Feather Arts in Pembroke, said the timing of Trump's support wasn't lost on her.

"I think that's a possibility that he's using the 55,000 people that are Lumbee, part of the Lumbee tribe, trying to get votes," Locklear said. "But also know that [Democratic presidential nominee] Joe Biden is also supporting the Lumbee bill."

Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, who introduced the new bill and lobbied Trump for support, praised the president's action.

"Federal recognition has been a long time coming, and I am proud to have worked with President Trump and the North Carolina delegation to get us one step closer to getting this legislation passed out of Congress and signed into law," Tillis said in a statement.

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