Lumbee Tribe on YouTube: Federal Recognition Presentation 11-21-2019

Lumbee Tribe federal recognition bill up for first hearing

A bill to extend federal recognition to the Lumbee Tribe, the largest Indian nation in the eastern United States, is up for its first hearing in the 116th Congress.

The House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States will take testimony on H.R.1964 at a legislative hearing on Wednesday. Passage of the Lumbee Recognition Act ensures that the Lumbees are treated like every other federally recognized tribe.

"The Lumbee Tribe is a tribe in all of its aspects, and the only thing that it lacks is the blessing of the federal government," attorney Paul Moorehead, a former Capitol Hill staffer whose law firm is working on the issue on a pro bono basis, told the tribal council on November 21.

Harvey Godwin, Jr. serves as chairman of the Lumbee Tribe. Photo: North Carolina Department of Transportation Communications

Based in North Carolina, the Lumbees are in a unique situation when it comes to their federal status. In 1956, Congress passed a law that identified them as "Indians," a designation that was celebrated at the time.

Lumbee leaders and citizens eventually found out there was little reason to be thankful. Amid the backdrop of the termination era, during which the United States was ending its relationship with tribes across the nation, the law denied them the services and benefits associated with federal recognition.

"It was only with the passage of time over a few years that we began to realize that once again we had been tricked," Arlinda Locklear, a Lumbee citizen and attorney who was the first Native woman to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, said at a hearing on Capitol Hill more than a decade ago.

H.R. 1964, Lumbee Recognition Act, gained a new co-sponsor this week. In one of his first official acts as the...

Posted by Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina on Friday, September 20, 2019

Two other tribes, both of them based in Texas, were treated in a similar manner during the same era and both had their federal recognition restored by Congress during the 1980s. The Lumbees are the only ones still in limbo and they are looking to lawmakers to correct the decades-old oversight.

"There's a lot of work that the people can do to come together and make this happen," Chairman Harvey Godwin, Jr., said at the council meeting.

"There's a lot of work, heavy lifting, we need to do as a people, and I hope we will do that," said Godwin, who is expected to testify at the hearing on Wednesday.

Like prior federal recognition bills, H.R.1964 enjoys bipartisan support. The newest co-sponsor is Rep. Dan Bishop (R-North Carolina), who signed on shortly after winning a special election in September with the help of Lumbee voters.

"As the Representative of North Carolina's Ninth Congressional District, I am proud to represent 55,000 members of the Lumbee Tribe," Bishop said on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives during debate on an Indian housing bill that he said would benefit his constituents.

"When I served in the North Carolina General Assembly, just before this special election in September, I cosponsored legislation clarifying North Carolina's recognition of the Lumbee," Bishop said in reference to his work as a state lawmaker.

On the U.S. Senate side, the Lumbee Recognition Act benefits from a prominent co-sponsor. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina) signed onto S.1368 in September, marking the first time he has done so since joining the chamber in 2015.

"We didn't think we were going to get that," Godwin said of Tillis's support. "We left with his endorsement. That's a big deal."

The House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States hearing on H.R.1964, the Lumbee Recognition Act, takes place at 2pm Eastern on Wednesday in Room 1324 of the Longworth House Office Building. A witness list hasn't been posted online yet.

S.1368 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, where Moorehead used to work as chief counsel and staff director. It has not yet received a hearing.

House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States Notice
Legislative Hearing (December 4, 2019)

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