First Posted: 1/15/2009
LUMBERTON -- Even as the Lumbee recognition bill moves through Congress, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is working feverishly to derail the effort, according to Brett Riggs, an archaeologist of American Indians.
Riggs, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, spoke Sunday during the annual meeting of Historic Robeson Inc. About half of the group's 100 members attended the dinner meeting at the Osterneck Auditorium that is part of the public library.
Riggs said the Cherokees are afraid Lumbee recognition will jeopardize that tribe's lucrative casino gambling businesses. Passage of the bill would bring millions of dollars to aid the 53,800-member tribe in the area of education, health care and economic development. Recognition also opens up the possibility of the Lumbees establishing a casino on sovereign Indian land.
“The Cherokees make about $137 million a year from gambling,” Riggs said. “They don't want a casino on I-95, because it would cut that money in half. They are lobbying against it like you would not believe.”
Before joining UNC, Riggs served as tribal archaeologist and deputy tribal historic preservationist officer for the Eastern band of Cherokee Indians. He has also performed research and archaeological digs on-site for Indian groups across the state.
Riggs' lecture to the historic preservation group lasted about two hours.
“We try to find someone to talk on a topic of historic interest at our annual meeting,” said Sarah Britt, the organization's president. “We made a fine choice this year.”
Historic Robeson maintains the Proctor Law Building, one of the oldest structures in the county, as well as several historic monuments in the county.
General membership is $10 per year; for patrons, the membership is $25 per year.
Riggs called the Lumbees' latest push for recognition “very interesting.”
“Federal recognition is not the end all, be all,” Riggs said. “The fact that an Indian tribe can't get federal recognition does not mean it is not an Indian community. There are a lot of tribes that find it difficult to get recognition because they don't have the historic documentation or records.”
The U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs voted overwhelming last month to pass the Lumbee Acknowledgment Bill to the Senate floor. The bill is expected to go to the full Senate sometime next year.
If the bill passes in the Senate, it would be forwarded to the House of Representatives, where U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre of Lumberton introduced a similar bill in February. His bill has more than 200 co-sponsors in the House. No hearing date has been set for McIntyre’s bill before the House Resources Committee.
The bill asks the U.S. government to provide the tribe with the same benefits and privileges given to other federally recognized tribes in the country. Congress passed the Lumbee Act in 1956, but the legislation denied any benefits.
“It will be interesting to see how it plays out,” Riggs said.