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Alliances tested on recognition of Lumbee Tribe
Friday, April 2, 2004

A House hearing on Thursday was the site of an occasionally bitter battle between two tribes from North Carolina and lawmakers divided over their allegiances to them.

Dozens of members of the Lumbee Tribe and Eastern Band of Cherokees packed the House Resources Committee room for a lengthy hearing on a controversial bill that supporters say would correct an historical wrong. But detractors brought up political, moral and cultural concerns to the measure.

The conflict means the Lumbee Tribe faces a tough fight in its bid to gain federal recognition after a century-long quest. The lawmakers in favor of the cause -- many of them members of the Congressional Native American Caucus -- have treaded lightly for fear of upsetting their support for the Eastern Band, whose lobbying prowess has resulted in some recent legislative coups.

One of those was getting to testify before the Lumbee Tribe. Michell Hicks, principal chief of the Eastern Band, launched the opening salvo by calling attention to the Lumbee's "doubtful" legitimacy.

"The fact is that they have sought recognition as four different tribes," Hicks told the committee. "They identify themselves as the Croatans, the Siouan, the Cheraw and folks -- the Cherokees. For 40 years, from 1913 to 1953, these folks wanted to recognize themselves as the Cherokees."

Hicks and other critics raised issues usually deemed separate from the federal recognition process. They said it would be too costly to provide health care and other services to the 50,000-plus Lumbees, most of whom live in one county in North Carolina.

They also warned that the tribe could open a casino in a highly lucrative area near a major interstate. The Eastern Cherokees, who number around 13,000, operate a Class III facility in the far Western part of the state.

"Ten years down the road, if there is an attempt to get approval for a casino, it would create a problem that would be almost uncontrollable," said Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), a member of the committee who read a statement from Rep. Charles Taylor (R-N.C.) in opposition to the bill.

Taylor represents a district that includes the Eastern Cherokee Reservation and he is sponsoring a rival bill that would force the Lumbees seek status through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Although that measure was not up for consideration yesterday, several lawmakers -- including Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), the first witness of the day -- said to go that route would be "unconscionable" because everyone agrees the process is flawed.

"It's been 116 years, let's not make them wait another 15," Dole pleaded. "Let us do the fair thing, the right thing, to resolve this injustice."

"We're in a unique situation that Congress created and Congress needs to correct," added Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.), the chief sponsor of the recognition bill.

After non-committal testimony from a BIA lawyer, three Lumbee representatives presented the tribe's case. Lumbee chairman Jimmy Goins said the tribe has been treated like "second class citizens" by the federal government.

"When I was eight years old, the U.S. passed a law that recognized my tribe but this law including language that says although we were Indian, we would not be treated like other Indian tribes," Goins testified. "Now is the time to correct the injustice my people have endured."

Dr. Jack Campisi, the tribe's researcher, said the tribe has a compelling case for recognition. He said church, state, federal and other records and studies establish clear ties to the historic Cheraw tribe.

Arlinda Locklear, a tribal member and attorney who was the first Native woman to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court, rejected some of the arguments advanced by the Eastern Band. She said the names Hicks cited were imposed on the tribe by the state. It wasn't only until the 1950s that the Lumbee people were able to choose their own name, she said.

She also sought to explain why the tribe's previous bids for recognition have been rejected, another issue raised by Hicks. "The reason all those bills failed to that point was not because of lack of Indian identity, not because the Lumbees were not Indian, but because the Department of the Interior opposed each and every bill," Locklear told the committee.

Some members of the committee openly struggled with their views on the matter. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) pointed out that he voted for a Lumbee recognition bill that passed the House in the 1990s but has not signed onto the current proposal.

One lawmaker who did, Rep. Brad Carson (D-Okla.), ended up withdrawing his name and adding it to Taylor's bill. Carson is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.

McIntyre's bill has 237 co-sponsors, including Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), the ranking member of the committee, and Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.), a committee member who is the Democrat co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus.

Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), chairman of the committee, has not signed onto either bill. But he was firm in his view that Congress can act to resolve the muddy dispute.

"To the point whether this committee or the Congress has a right to recognize tribes -- we have the right in the Constitution," he said. "I'm not sure the administration has the right anywhere. This is our responsibility."

Get Lumbee Bills:
Dole: S.420 | McIntyre: H.R.898 | Taylor: H.R.1408

Relevant Links:
Official Lumbee Tribe website - http://www.lumbeetribe.com
Lumbee Regional Development Association - http://www.lumbee.org

Related Stories:
House committee debating status of Lumbee Tribe (4/1)
House committee takes up recognition process (4/1)
House panel holds hearing on Lumbee recognition (3/22)
Supporters of Lumbee recognition bill expect fight (12/18)
Lumbee recognition bill delayed on Senate floor (12/03)
Eastern Cherokee Tribe afraid of Lumbee recognition (11/04)
Lumbee Tribe going to polls to elect new chair (11/3)
Senate panel advances Lumbee recognition bill (10/30)
Senate panel takes up Lumbee recognition bill (10/29)
Senate panel to decide on Lumbee recognition (10/08)
Benefits of Lumbee recognition said to be many (9/22)
Lumbee Tribe makes case for federal recognition (09/18)
Senate panel holds hearing on Lumbee recognition (09/18)
Lumbee delegation pushing for federal recognition (9/15)
Senate panel to hold hearing on Lumbee recognition (09/04)
School board supports recognition of Lumbee Tribe (08/12)
Senate panel to hold hearing on Lumbee recognition (8/4)
Lumbee Tribe hopes for resolution of status (3/19)
Lumbee tribal members debate extent of territory (3/7)
Opinion: Approve recognition of Lumbee Tribe (2/27)
Group says Lumbee recognition means casino (2/26)
Sen. Dole backs Lumbee recognition bill (02/19)
Lumbee Tribe seeks support fot federal status (2/18)
Lumbee recognition bill to be delayed (01/09)
Lumbee Tribe hopes for recognition (11/27)

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