WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan on Wednesday called on the Senate’s Indian Affairs Committee to support the Lumbee Recognition Act that she and Sen. Richard Burr introduced in June.
“The Lumbee Recognition Act — which I have introduced with my colleague from North Carolina, Senator Burr — would rectify this longstanding inequity, and provide the Lumbee with the full recognition they so clearly deserve,” Hagan said according to a transcript provided The Robesonian. “Beyond simple fairness, the issue of Lumbee recognition is critically important to the North Carolina economy, and to counties and communities that have been hardest hit by the recent economic downturn.”
Hagan is the latest legislator to urge federal recognition for the tribe. U.S. Reps. Mike McIntyre, a Democrat, and Richard Hudson, a Republican, both representatives of Robeson County, introduced similar Lumbee recognition legislation in the House in April. Hagan is a Democrat, and Sen. Burr is a Republican.
“The state of North Carolina officially recognized the tribe in 1885 and despite generations of uninterrupted self-governing, the Lumbee still have not received full recognition by federal government,” Hagan said. “Instead, Congress in 1956 enacted the Lumbee Act, which simultaneously recognized the tribe, but denied tribal members access to federal services.”
Several tribal members, including Chairman Paul Brooks and Lesaundri Hunt, chairman of the tribe’s Federal Recognition Committee, attended Wednesday’s hearing. Neither Brooks nor Hunt could be reached this morning.
The tribe petitioned the Bureau of Indian Affairs for full federal recognition in 1989, but at that time was informed by the solicitor general that because of the language in the 1956 Act the tribe can only be recognized through an act of Congress.
Hagan told the committee that because the 1956 Lumbee Act forbid the tribe from pursuing resources available to every other recognized tribe, the Lumbee do not have access to critical services through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Services.
“The Harvard School of Public Health has found that residents of Robeson County have a lower average life expectancy due to persistent poverty and limited access to affordable health care,” Hagan said. “Our bill will enable the Lumbee to combat these trends through access to critical programs within Indian Health Services and economic development programs through the Bureau of Indian Affairs.”
Hagan told the committee that Lumbee recognition will not mean less funding for other tribes.
“… I want to be clear. The Lumbee do not want recognition on the backs of other tribes,” she said. “This bill simply ensures that the Lumbee are eligible for the same services as their peers. Funding for these services will be subject to future appropriations, and the Lumbee will not dilute support for tribes that currently receive federal resources.”
She said recognition is not about dollar signs, but about respect for the Lumbee people.
“Federal recognition is about more than federal resources and creating economic development opportunities for this community,” Hagan said. “It is about tribal identity and fairness. And it is essential that we ensure that current and future generations of Lumbee are no longer treated as a second-class tribe.”