Approved by a voice vote, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs approved the Lumbee Recognition Act last Wednesday morning.
The vote was first scheduled to take place on July 26, but due to a joint session of Congress and a visit from the Iraqi Prime Minister, the vote was postponed.
Two weeks before the vote was to take place, tribal members traveled to testify before the committee, along with the help of North Carolina Senators Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr and U.S. Representative Mike McIntyre (NC -7th). Their testimony, along with words from Tribal Chairman Jimmy Goins and Tribal Administrator Leon Jacobs, helped press the bill through the committee, who is chaired by Arizona Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain.
A vote was also taken for an amendment to the bill, but was voted down by an 8-6 vote.
“I want to thank Senator Dole, Senator Burr, and Senator Inouye for their hard work,” said Chairman Goins in a written statement after the vote. “The recognition of this tribe is long overdue. No tribe, in similar status as Lumbee, has been asked to go through both a legislative and administrative process. This bill is just. Fairness dictates that Congress treat Lumbee no differently than it has treated any other tribe in the same status as Lumbee.”
Senator Daniel K. Inouye is from Hawaii.
Now that the bill has passed its first hurdle, it now goes before the Senate and then if it passes there; it will be forwarded on to the floor of the House of Representatives.
With Congress recessing last Friday for a month, it was not known whether or not any action would be taken on the bill.
“We are very pleased and thankful of the vote today to move the Lumbee Bill out of Committee to the full Senate,” Tribal Administrator Leon Jacobs stated in a release. “We have confidence in the efforts of Senators Dole and Burr to move the bill through the Senate.”
The Lumbee Recognition Act did go before Congress in 1991 with the House passing the bill, recognizing the tribe, but it failed in the Senate the following year.
“Today we have cleared another major hurdle in achieving long-deserved federal recognition for the Lumbee Tribe,” said Dole in statement on Wednesday. “The Lumbees have patiently waited for more than a century for full federal recognition and the benefits that accompany that recognition. I comment the Indian Affairs Committee for understanding that this is an issue of fairness and approving this legislation.”
The Lumbee Tribe was officially and federally recognized by this act which was passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives and was signed by former President Dwight D. Eisenhower on June 7, 1956, but the act withheld full benefits of federal recognition from the tribe. The State of North Carolina has recognized the tribe since 1885.
The Lumbee Tribe, known as the largest Indian tribe east of the Mississippi over 50,000 strong and living mainly in and around Robeson County, began rallying for support with a rally on the steps of Old Main on the campus of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke on June 7, the 50th anniversary of the bill being signed. From that day forwards, held a series of events that included more rallies, walks and gospel sings to help support federal recognition efforts. The tribe officially closed out the ’50-day celebration’ back on the steps of Old Main with another rally, urging supporters to email each Senator on the 14-member committee, asking them to pass this legislation.
The Lumbee Recognition Act, if passed, would make available some $77 million in annual federal funds to the tribe to assist in education, health care, housing, etc.
The Lumbees are also the largest non-federally recognized tribe in the United States.