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Washington in Brief

Lumbee continue the quest for full federal recognition

The Lumbee of North Carolina sent about a hundred strong to Washington July 12 as the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs took up the Lumbee Recognition Act, the latest in a long sequence of efforts to earn federal recognition.

Sens. Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr, both R-N.C., along with fellow North Carolinian Rep. Mike McIntyre, a Democrat, poured on the advocacy of the state’s congressional delegation. They urged the committee to pass Senate Bill 660 expeditiously out of committee, a requirement for any bill that would hope to become law as the traditional August recess and the November elections approach.

In the midst of extensive questioning, Burr offered what may be the last word on Lumbee recognition: “I personally think we’re long past the point of any normal process.”

The Lumbee problem is a matter of names and timing. It was their bad luck that the Lumbee Act of 1956 made it through Congress at the height of the termination era. A bill that had set out to recognize the Lumbee ended up commemorating their last name change, in the words of Michell Hicks, principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee, an implacable foe of recognizing the Lumbee by act of Congress. The Interior Department prevailed on Congress to add “classic termination language” to the bill as enacted, according to Arlinda Locklear, an attorney for the tribe. The result was to deprive the Lumbee of federal recognition or of any benefits, including (as it turned out years later) any right of access to the established federal recognition process.

As for the varying tribal names under which the Lumbee have approached the federal government for recognition, Locklear readily explained. They were state names, enacted in statutes and then presented to Congress as models. And so the Lumbee have sought recognition as Croatan, Cheraw, Cherokee and, now, Lumbee Indians. But a key consideration is that current Lumbee family names are found on a 1725 map in a Cheraw locale along the Drowning Creek, since renamed the Lumbee River.

Interior, represented by R. Lee Fleming, director of the Office of Federal Acknowledgment, continued to advocate amending the 1956 Lumbee Act to permit the Lumbee to petition for tribal status.

Alaska Native 8(a) contracting looks safe for now

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The word on Capitol Hill is that Congress is not likely to change the law on Alaska Native contracting under the Small Business Administration 8(a) program for minority-owned and disadvantaged small businesses.

Jackie Johnson, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, said tribes have prevailed for now over a Congressional Accountability Office study that found Alaska Native contracting has outgrown SBA oversight. But the Alaska Native contractors are not at fault, Johnson said.

Another concern has been allayed in that it’s now pretty well understood on the Hill that large SBA 8(a) contracts to tribes and Alaska Natives do not benefit individual entrepreneurs primarily, but whole tribes and communities.

“That is an ongoing educational challenge” for NCAI, Johnson said.

Added NCAI associate counsel Virginia Davis, speaking of congressional members and staff: “Once they get it they’re good.”

Bush hails lower budget projection

President George W. Bush is promoting good news on the current federal budget deficit, projected to be at $290 billion instead of the $423 billion initially predicted.

The deficit is the amount by which federal expenditures outpace revenues. A large deficit can mean trouble for Indian-specific spending.

Factoring in expenses incurred but not accounted for, the actual deficit has been projected at $760 billion in a seldom-seen federal document. No word was available on how those numbers now look in light of the deficit’s decline.