The bill, introduced this past week by U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor, R-N.C., calls for the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to determine if the Lumbee tribe should receive full federal recognition, which could bring with it millions of federal dollars.
Tribal Government officer Ruth Locklear called the bill "a spoiler" meant to send the Lumbees through a "flawed process."
"Congress has had several measures before it to change the process that Mr. Taylor wants to force the Lumbees through," Locklear said. "I think Mr. Taylor is incorrect in wanting to send us through a process that obviously has serious problems. If anything, he should get on board and try and help some of these legislators trying to straighten up the process."
Unlike bills filed by other North Carolina members of Congress, the measure declines to give Lumbees immediate recognition. The tribe would have to meet seven BIA guidelines to gain federal recognition.
"Basically, the bill says the Lumbees can go through the regular BIA process to secure federal recognition like every other tribe," said Roger France, Taylor's spokesman.
Tribal Council member Linda Hammonds is disappointed but not surprised with Taylor's bill.
"I am extremely disappointed in Congressman Taylor, as well as disheartened by his action," Hammonds said. "However, we are going to continue to go forward."
Hammonds said Taylor has made past objections to Lumbee recognition. Taylor's bill is not meant to clear a path for the tribe, but make things harder, she said.
"Congressman Taylor is well aware of the BIA's record for requiring written historical data and artifacts to support a people who are trying to prove that they are American Indian, and he realizes that the BIA thinks that the Lumbees are lacking on that one aspect of the seven criteria."
Congress passed the Lumbee Act in 1956, but the legislation denied the tribe benefits and privileges given to other federally recognized tribes. Several bills granting the tribe full federal recognition have failed going back to 1974; the tribe's latest defeat came in 1997.
Tribal leaders have hoped opposition would wane with the departure of Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C. His successor, GOP Sen. Elizabeth Dole, has submitted a bill seeking full recognition for the Lumbees, as has Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C.
U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, a co-sponsor of Taylor's bill, "believes the Lumbees deserve the access to federal recognition, and this bill will allow them that through the correct avenue," said Lanier Swann, Jones' communications director.
About 55,000 Lumbees live in the country, mostly in Robeson and the surrounding counties. The Eastern Band of the Cherokees is the only federally recognized tribe in North Carolina.