WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Lumbee Recognition Bill is back in the U.S. Senate.
North Carolina’s two senators, Richard Burr, a Republican, and Kay Hagan, a Democrat, today jointly introduced the bill that if approved would provide the tribe hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding for housing, health care, education and economic development.
“I am elated that the senators have introduced this legislation,” Lumbee Tribal Chairman Paul Brooks said. “They understand the significance and importance of the Lumbee Bill to the tribal membership.
“This matter is not only important to the Lumbee, but it is also important to all residents of Robeson and adjoining counties as well as the state of North Carolina,” Brooks said. “Full federal recognition will impact these areas economically in a positive way.”
Burr and Hagan said in a joint statement that they are glad to introduce the bill.
“I am proud to reintroduce this legislation, continuing my efforts to ensure that the Lumbee Tribe receives long-overdue federal recognition,” Burr said. “I hope that the Senate will fulfill its commitment to achieve fairness and justice for the Lumbees.”
The bill is similar to the one that has been filed in the past three congressional sessions. During the past session, the bill made its way through the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs to the Senate floor, but was never voted on by the full Senate. It had passed the full House and was supported by the Obama Administration during the 112th Congress.
The Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, with about 55,000 members, is the largest tribe east of the Mississippi River. The tribe has sought federal recognition since 1888. Three years before, in 1885, North Carolina officially recognized the tribe.
Although Congress officially recognized the tribe in 1956, it denied tribal members the financial benefits afforded to other tribes.
“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. “I am committed to working with my colleagues to pass this legislation to give the Lumbee Tribe the full recognition they deserve.”
In 1989, the tribe petitioned the Bureau of Indian Affairs for full recognition. The solicitor general, however, said that because of language in the Act of 1956 the tribe could only be recognized through an act of Congress.
Hannah Smith, a spokesperson for Hagan, said today that both of the senators are “optimistic” that the bill can pass the Senate during this congressional session.
“They are working both sides of the aisle to get support for the bill,” she said.
A similar bill was filed in the House in April. The House bill was sponsored by Rep. Richard Hudson, a Republican from Concord, whose 8th District contains most of Robeson County, and Mike McIntyre, a Democrat from Lumberton, whose 7th District includes a sliver of Robeson County. McIntyre has sponsored and shepherded the bill through the House the past two congressional sessions. Each session, however, the bill stalled in the Senate.
“We will continue this fight until justice prevails,” Brooks said.