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Lumbee Could Decide NC Senate Race– Tribe Ignored in Recent Debate

N.C. Senatorial Candidates, Thom Tillis and Sen. Kay Hagan never mentioned the Lumbee – a tribe that could sway the election – during a recent debate.

Last Thursday, North Carolina Senatorial Candidates Speaker Thom Tillis and incumbent Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) held their state debate which was televised on C-SPAN. Though the Lumbee tribe holds considerable leverage in North Carolina with 58,000 members, Hagan and Tillis made no mention of the tribe.

The senatorial hopefuls did weigh in on other important contemporary issues as ISIS, Obamacare, Education and Veterans-based issues. 

Taking into consideration tribal populations have been a deciding factor in Senatorial races such as in 2000 when tribal voters were a factor in unseating Sen. Slade Gorton of Washington, In 2002, Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota was reelected and the Oglala Sioux Tribe was credited overwhelmingly and when senators Jon Tester in 2006 and Heidi Heitkamp in 2012 won by 1 percentage point – Native American voters have been credited with the victories.

In a June 2014 article by The Hill Lumbee tribal Chairman Paul Brooks stated, “I have been doing this for almost 40 years. It’s [going to] come down to a 1 percent [margin], and we’re that 1 percent. … It reminds me how ironic history can be that our poor tribe can now determine the 2015 future of the United States Senate and thus all the promise makers.”

More specifically, the Lumbee tribe is seeking support from the Senate and a vote to help them secure and finalize federal recognition. Hagan has previously voiced her support of the tribes bid to be recognized and Hagan, along with Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) last year reintroduced the Lumbee Recognition Act – which had previously passed in the house in 2007 and 2008.

Also, Hagan and Burr testified last year before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in support of the Lumbee’s bid for federal recognition.

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The continuous support from Senator Hagan has gained favorable nods from the Lumbee to include Chairman Brooks who has spoken out regarding the importance of federal recognition to his tribe.

“[Federal recognition] would give us a better educational system, more economic development opportunities, a better health system, in effect, a better way to enhance the lives of our people,” said Paul Brooks, Lumbee tribal chairman.

Though the Lumbee have historically held a Democratic majority Brooks stated to The Hill that the tribe is watching Hagan and Tillis “very closely, for we do not believe in words anymore, but in what a senator does or does not do.”

Hagan says the importance of the Lumbee gaining federal recognition is important and will support the tribes efforts. In an email to ICTMN, Hagan wrote, “Since I came into the Senate in 2009, I have worked with Lumbee leaders in North Carolina and Washington towards full federal recognition because full recognition is critical to the heritage and economic vitality of the entire Lumbee community.”

Tillis did not respond to ICTMN’s request for a comment by publication time. Tillis’ campaign manager Jordan Shaw has shared that Tillis also supports the tribes bid for recognition though the comment was directed toward all North Carloina citizens.

“Obviously, we’re trying to build as broad of a coalition as we can,” Shaw said. “We believe Speaker Tillis’s message will resonate with people in North Carolina from all walks of life. We’ll campaign across the state to reach [everyone],” Shaw told The Hill.

Though Chairman Brooks also told The Hill, the race would be within one percent and the Lumbee would and could be a deciding factor, reports from July put Hagan at a 7 point lead over Tillis.