Congress considers Lumbee recognition bill

ICT Washington

This week on Capitol Hill, Dec. 2 to 6

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye and Kolby KickingWoman

Lumbee Recognition Act

Why are we here?

In 1885, the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina received state recognition. Three years later, the tribe petitioned Congress for full recognition but the request was referred to the Department of the Interior which denied full recognition saying the tribe was too large and there was not enough money to provide services.

The Lumbee Tribe has 60,000 members, which makes them the largest tribe in North Carolina, the largest east of the Mississippi and the ninth largest in the nation, according to the opening statement form Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Arizona.

Who testified?

  • Harvey Godwin, Jr., chairman of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina
  • Dr. Frederick Hoxie, professor emeritus, University of Illinois
  • Richard Sneed, principal chief, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

The hearing
Despite receiving recognition from the state of North Carolina in 1885, the Lumbee Tribe was turned down for federal recognition in 1888. Since then, the Lumbee tribe submitted a number of recognition bills to Congress and in 1956 one was enacted, although with a caveat. The bill that was ultimately enacted was amended to deny the tribe’s eligibility for federal services, which left the tribe in a “half-in, half-out” federal relationship.

Chairman Godwin expressed the importance for complete recognition of his tribe in his opening statement saying that he’s the 19th Lumbee chairman to appear before Congress fighting for recognition and that he hopes the youth of his tribe don’t have to wait as long as some have already.

“It’s time to establish fair and just treatment of the Lumbee people,” Chairman Godwin said. “We have full faith in this subcommittee that you’ll do the right thing and for once and for all, recognize us.”

Although, not all the witnesses in attendance were gung-ho for the bill’s passage.

Principal Chief Sneed said that as the elected leader of the direct descendants of those who survived the Trail of Tears, it is his duty and responsibility to defend Cherokee identity. He said the Lumbee have on multiple occasions falsely claimed to be Cherokee, as well as Croatan, Siouan and Cheraw.

“The Lumbees have cloaked themselves in these tribal identities in a century long quest for federal recognition as an Indian tribe,” Principal Chief Sneed said. He continued to say, “Congress should not reward this identity shopping with federal recognition.”

The cases made for and against the bills passage differed along the lines of who should handle federal recognition in the case of the Lumbee Tribe; Congress or the Department of the Interior.

Sneed argues that if the the Lumbee are allowed to circumvent the Interiors Office of Federal Acknowledgement process, it will damage the sovereignty of tribes already federally recognized.

On the contrary, Godwin, Jr. says the Lumbee Tribe has a long history of culture and tradition. He said, lacking the “stamp of approval by the United States as a fully federally recognized tribe,” has led to them being discounted and disrespected.

Census 2010 says that within the Lumbee Tribe, of those who reported being American Indian or Alaska Native, there are 62,306. This number is based off of individuals reporting as being Lumbee only. The number jumps to 73,691 if the individual reported as Lumbee and another race.

Hearing buff?
Text of the bill can be found here and video of the hearing can be found here.

What’s next?
Stay tuned to Indian Country Today as we follow this bill through the rigorous process of federal recognition. Most recently, six tribes from Virginia were recognized in 2018 after, “many years of hard work.” Or as Nansemond Chief Lockamy said, “... it took 418 years to get here."

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, at a press conference after the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019 passes in the House.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, at a press conference after the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019 passes in the House. (Screenshot)

Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019

The House passed the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019, also known as H.R. 4, today which Myrna Pérez of the Brennan Center says is “Congress reaffirming the American commitment” and making sure every eligible American can go to the ballot box. Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019

Why is this important?
This nationwide legislation amends part of the bill, section 4, that was invalidated in the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court case, Shelby County v. Holder. And, according to Vox, this has been on the Democrats’ agenda.

What part was invalidated?
Section 4 was invalidated and the bill restores it. It requires federal approval in states and local jurisdictions if any changes are to be made to the voting process. This is known as “preclearance.”

Indigenize it for me
“They could not remove the only polling place on tribal communities or a reservation. They can’t take it away. Also, it requires tribal approval if you're going to move it far away,” said Natalie Landreth, Chickasaw and attorney for the Native American Rights Fund. So it’s like tribal consultation.

Why is this important to Native people?
Landreth said this legislation will protect 20 percent of the tribes and it complements the Native American Voting Rights Act.

Pérez, who is the director of the voting rights and elections program, add that “Native Americans are going to benefit from the strong statement affirmed by Congress that of the promise of the 15th amendment that you are free from discmriantiton.”

The 15th amendment says: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

Cosponsored
H.R. 4 is cosponsored by 229 lawmakers, including Democrat Reps. Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, and Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk. (Davids noted it was part of her first 100 days in Congress.)

Next step
The bill is on its way to the Senate. (The New York Times reported, “The bill has little chance of becoming law given opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate and by President Trump, whose aides issued a veto threat against it this week.”)

Love legislation?
Grab a cup of Navajo tea and read the 40-page bill here.

Next story
Keep an eye out for the deep dive next week.

#ICYMI from the Hill

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Kolby KickingWoman is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is Blackfeet/Gros Ventre from the great state of Montana and currently reports and lives in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter - @KDKW_406. Email - kkickingwoman@indiancountrytoday.com

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Diné, is the Washington editor for Indian Country Today based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter: @jourdanbb. Email: jbennett-begaye@indiancountrytoday.com

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