Skip to main content

Lumbees testify before U.S. House for federal recognition

  • Author:
  • Updated:

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina's Lumbee Indians are again seeking full federal recognition, but once again, they face opposition from within the state's congressional delegation.

Leaders and members went to Washington, D.C., April 18, seeking the full recognition that would bring the tribe's 50,000 members more federal money.

''When asked about my tribe, many times the subject of federal recognition comes up. I do think this creates a stigma that somehow because we are not recognized or have full benefits that we are different than other tribes,'' said Kelvin Sampson, a Lumbee and head coach of the Indiana University men's basketball team. ''The issue of acceptance has created a perception of not being completely whole.''

Sampson and other Lumbees and their supporters testified before the House Committee on Natural Resources.

U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., told the committee a bill giving the Lumbees full recognition would correct a problem that dates back to 1956, when Congress recognized the tribe but didn't attach the benefits that come with the recognition.

''During the past few hearings, the Lumbee tribe has heard concerns raised about them as whether they are true Indians,'' McIntyre said. ''Chairman [Nick] Rahall, that question is a dagger in the heart of good, decent and honest citizens who compose the Lumbee tribe. It represents a weak attempt to try and confuse the issue of federal recognition.''

But other members of the North Carolina delegation disagreed, including newly elected Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., whose western North Carolina district includes the Eastern Band of Cherokee.

Shuler and other House members said they would support a bill that would send the tribe's request to the BIA.

Michell Hicks, principal chief of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee in western North Carolina, said recognizing the Lumbees through legislation would undermine the culture and political integrity of other tribes.

Agreeing with Shuler were Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., who testified he would co-sponsor Shuler's bill, and Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., who said he opposed the possibility that the Lumbees could build a casino if they got the full recognition.

McIntyre and Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., who also testified April 18, are sponsoring bills in support of full federal recognition. Gov. Mike Easley also sent a letter of support.