PEMBROKE — Lumbee Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin isn’t concerned that the Lumbee Recognition Act considered by the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on Wednesday includes a provision that would allow gaming on tribal land, saying that such a weighty decision would be the people’s call.
“It doesn’t matter if the bill includes a gaming provision or not,” Godwin told The Robesonian. “Even if that recognition bill would pass, gaming would only be permitted if approved by a vote of our general membership. Our constitution specifically states that gaming must be approved by a vote of the people.”
Godwin said that priority issues on his “plate” at this time include job creation, economic development, workforce training, education, and health care for all tribal members.
The question of whether the development of casinos should be allowed on Lumbee land if full federal recognition is granted has been a point of contention among members of Congress and Lumbees. U.S. House members have traditionally insisted that any House bill calling for Lumbee recognition must not provide for casinos and gaming. The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, however, has held the position that any federally recognized tribe should have the right to its own destiny, including the right to operate casinos as a way of generating revenue for tribal members.
“The Senate’s position has always been that federally recognized tribes should have full sovereignty,” said Larry Townsend, a member of the Lumbee Tribal Council and longtime advocate for Lumbee recognition. “If you don’t allow gaming, you are chipping away at 100 percent of tribal sovereignty.”
A bill calling for Lumbee federal recognition sits unattended in a Congressional committee. It was introduced in the House in January 2015 by Rep. Richard Hudson, a Republican from Concord whose 8th District until recently included most of Robeson County. The bill specifically prohibits gaming should it become law.
Terry Hunt, a member of the Lumbee Tribal Council, said that the two bills will have to be reconciled concerning gaming before the two congressional bodies can come up with a bill that will satisfy a majority of members of Congress. The gaming issue will also have to be settled among Lumbee tribal members who disagree whether casinos should be built.
A prohibition on gaming has been included in House versions of the Lumbee Recognition Act since gaming was removed from one of the earliest House bills introduced by former Rep. Mike McIntyre several years ago, according to Arlinda Locklear, an attorney with Robeson County roots who represented the tribe in its quest for federal recognition for years.
“Concerns over gaming have always been a problem in the House, but not so much in the Senate,” she said.
Although declining to speak on the record, several tribal members told The Robesonian last week that there is significant disagreement among tribal members over whether or not economic benefits spawned by casinos would outweigh social problems caused by the presence of casinos, such as gambling and alcohol abuse. Most tribal members agree, however, that if the people get a chance to vote on whether casinos should be permitted on tribal property the establishment of casinos will get a green light.
“The gaming issue is tricky in the the minds of some, and there are as many for casinos as against,” said Welford Clark, a former tribal councilman. “But I think if a referendum on the issue is held a majority of tribal members will support it.”
Clark knows how he would vote.
“As a Christian and preacher, I can’t say that I support the development of casinos,” Clark said. “But I don’t think I will walk down Main Street with a sign opposing casinos either.”
Townsend agrees with Clark.
“It might be close and I don’t think it would be a landslide, but in the end I think the tribe would vote in favor of casinos,” said Townsend. “It all comes down to money, money, money. Money can change the minds of even those who aren’t so sure casinos would be in the best interest of the tribe.”
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.