PEMBROKE — The Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina and other state-recognized tribes will remain members of the National Congress of the American Indian despite a recent effort to strip them of that status, according to local tribal officials.
During the NCAI’s annual convention last week in Sacramento, Calif., a proposed amendment calling for membership to the NCAI to be open to only federally recognized tribes was voted down. The amendment was sponsored by Kerry Holton, the former president of the Delaware Nation from Oklahoma.
A related amendment, that sets the process by which a state-recognized tribe can become a member of NCAI, was approved. The two amendments were among nine that were considered at the convention.
“The overwhelming vote against Amendment 1 solidifies the direction and the voice that NCAI will seek for Indian Country for many, many, many years to come,” said Larry Townsend, vice president of the National Congress’ southeast area and a Lumbee tribal member. Townsend said the region he represents includes about 25 tribes.
Townsend joined 16 members of the Lumbee Tribal Council and the tribe’s attorney, Ed Brooks, in attending the event.
Pearlean Revels, speaker of the Lumbee Tribal Council and a delegate to the convention, told The Robesonian that all members of the Lumbee delegation worked hard to lobby to defeat the amendment.
“We all networked with members from other tribes and stood in doorways handing out fliers opposing the referendum,” she said.
Council member Louise Mitchell also attended the convention.
“We all did the leg work,” she said. “It would have been detrimental to the tribe if that amendment had passed. The NCAI is our voice on the Hill. We need to be a member.”
Both Revels and Mitchell expressed their concerns that the council is being accused by some of wasting tribal dollars by going to conventions such as the one they just attended.
“But you need to have a voice at the table,” Revels said. “Our representation at the convention was well worth every dollar spent by the tribe.”
Townsend said he believes the large number of Lumbee delegates at the convention worked in the best interest of the tribe.
“There’s no doubt that it was good for there to be a large number of Lumbees there to protect our interests,” he said.
Tribal Chairman Paul Books, who did not attend the convention, issued a statement emphasizing the importance of defeating the proposed amendment restricting NCAI membership to just federally recognized tribes.
“This constitutional amendment would have changed the identity of Indian,” Brooks said. “… The proposed change would put the power of recognition exclusively in the hands of the federal government, not recognizing tribal inherent sovereignty, which can be acknowledged by this organization,” he said.
The state-recognized Lumbee Tribe has been seeking full federal recognition and benefits for years.
Founded in 1944, NCAI advocates for all tribes on such issues as education, housing, taxation, transportation and law enforcement, according Townsend.
“The purpose of NCAI is to be a unified voice of tribal nations on the national level,” he said. “This past week, the congress has rejected the divisive resolution … as it runs against NCAI’s longstanding practice of including the interest of all Indian tribes, even if they have not yet been federally recognized, or terminated by Congress.”