PEMBROKE — As the contest for U.S. Senate begins between incumbent Kay Hagan, a Democrat, and N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Republican, the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina is in a good position to influence how the proposed Lumbee Recognition Bill is viewed in the Senate, according to The Hill, a Washington publication that closely follows politics in the nation’s capital.
With the race between Hagan and Tillis expected to be close and a determining factor in which party controls the U.S. Senate in 2015, the number of votes each can muster from the Lumbee Tribe is a key to her future. Lumbee tribal members traditionally vote for Democrats.
Currently, the Lumbee Tribe is seeking a vote in the Democratic-led Senate on a bill that would give them federal recognition. Federal recognition would provide the tribe funding from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and certain benefits, services and protections from the U.S. government. Chairman Paul Brooks was recently in Washington, D.C., lobbying for the bill’s passage.
Hagan and Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, last year reintroduced the Lumbee Recognition Act in the Senate. A similar bill passed the House in 2007 and 2009.
“(Federal recognition) would give us a better educational system, more economic development opportunities, a better health system, in effect, a better way to enhance the lives of our people,” said Brooks, according to The Hill.
Brooks reportedly said that Burr received 40 percent of Lumbee votes cast in 2010.
“That is the winning number for a Republican candidate in North Carolina Indian Country,” he said. “… (Burr) came to us after losing the Indian vote … and said, ‘I lost your vote, but let’s start again.’”
According to The Hill, Tillis’ campaign manager, Jordan Shaw, said the House speaker supports Lumbee recognition.
“Obviously, we’re trying to build as broad of a coalition as we can,” Shaw said. “We believe Speaker Tillis’ message will resonate with people in North Carolina from all walks of life. We’ll campaign across the state to reach (everyone).”
The Lumbee Tribe was first recognized by the state in 1885. Federal recognition was sought in 1888.
Congress passed The Lumbee Act in 1956, but the legislation denied Lumbees benefits received by other federally recognized tribes.
Proponents of the Lumbee bill say the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, North Carolina’s only fully federally recognized tribe, is blocking the legislation to maintain its monopoly on North Carolina’s gaming industry, according to The Hill. Brooks said Senate passage of the bill would “absolutely” mobilize the tribe in support of Hagan, The Hill said.
When asked what he would do if he was the incumbent senator running, Brooks reportedly told The Hill, “I have been doing this for almost 40 years. It’s (going to) to come down to a 1 percent (margin), and we’re that 1 percent. … It reminds me how ironic history can be that our poor tribe can now determine the 2015 future of the United States Senate and thus all the promise makers.”
“(A Senate vote) is very important. It’s never had to go to the floor, only committee,” Brooks said.
According to The Hill, Hagan’s press secretary said that Hagan’s campaign plans to target American Indians in North Carolina as part of its voter turnout strategy.
“Full federal recognition is critical to the heritage and cultural identity of more than 55,000 North Carolinians and the economic vitality of the entire Lumbee community,” Hagan said in a statement. “This is an issue of fairness, and I am committed to fighting in the Senate to give the Lumbee Tribe the full recognition they deserve.”