Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., attained a congressional hearing for The Lumbee Recognition Act, a bill that will fully federally recognize the Native American tribe located in southeastern North Carolina.
In a testimony before The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs on Sept. 26, Pittenger said language in an outdated bill — The Lumbee Act of 1956 — is barring the Lumbee Tribe from full federal recognition.
“Congress provided a unique status to the Lumbee — they recognized the Lumbee as American Indians, but stated they would not be eligible for benefits related to federal recognition,” Pittenger said.
Amy Hertel, the director of the UNC American Indian Center, said full federal recognition of the Lumbee Tribe will have a direct impact on campus.
“It will change the way that others will engage Lumbee people and the Lumbee Tribe,” she said. “It’ll bring a new awareness on campus for students, faculty and staff.”
As a Lumbee herself, Hertel said the importance of the bill has wide ramifications.
“It’s an issue that drills down to the health and well-being of the Indian people," she said. "But it’s also an issue of pride and identity for our young people."
Ryan Dial-Stanley, a sophomore Lumbee student at UNC, said he hopes full federal recognition will silence critics of Lumbee roots.
“I’ve heard some people say that we aren’t even Indian," he said. "I’ve heard people say that we’re just a tribe invented by the government — some people even think that the name Lumbee was made up. It hurts.”
Danielle McLean, a legal and compliance officer with the Lumbee Tribe, said tribes are typically federally recognized through the Office of Federal Acknowledgement, but the 1956 bill prevented such action. She said congressional action is the only way the Lumbee Tribe can be federally recognized.
McLean said the tribe was close to federal recognition in the 1990s, when a recognition bill passed the House, but later failed in the Senate — after filibustering by former Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C. She said some Native American tribes have been historically opposed to the federal recognition of the Lumbee for political and economic reasons.
“Our size concerns people because we are a large tribe, and there’s misinformation that we would take dollars away from other Indian tribes,” she said.
McLean said benefits include eligibility for the Indian Child Welfare Act, affordable health care through Indian Health Services and Federal Emergency Management Agency funding for disaster relief.
She said the lack of federal funding following Hurricane Matthew was particularly devastating. With full federal recognition, she said the Lumbee Tribe could have received over $400,000 from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and missed the opportunity to work directly with FEMA on disaster aid.
Dial-Stanley said his Lumbee identity is already solidified, and will not change by the passage of a bill. He believes federal recognition will allow others to become more aware of his identity.
“When we’re granted federal recognition, that’ll give us the opportunity to show and educate other people on our culture,” he said.
The recognition of the Lumbee Tribe is long overdue, he said.
“I’ve always heard about Lumbee recognition growing up as a kid and the efforts we’ve been through,” he said. “Part of the reason it’s so important to me is that it gives my tribe the justice it deserves.”
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