PEMBROKE — Harvey Godwin Jr. continues to beat the tribal drum that full federal recognition is finally within his tribe’s reach — and he is even more sure of it after a vist last week to the nation’s capital.
“I’m not sure how soon it will happen, but it’s going to move faster than in the past 127 years,” said Godwin, chairman of the Tribal Government. “We have passed a speed bump.”
While in Washington, D.C., for several days, Godwin met with Sen. Richard Burr, North Carolina’s senior senator, Rep. Robert Pittenger, whose 9th District includes all of Robeson County, and Rep. Richard Hudson, whose 8th District used to include Robeson County and currently includes Hoke and part of Cumberland County. The three members of Congress, all Republicans, and Godwin discussed possible options to pursue in order to move the Lumbee Recognition Act as quickly as possible through both the Senate and House.
“This is the first time that I have met with all three of them at one time,” said Godwin. “… And they are all not just supporting full federal recognition for the tribe, they are putting a plan together to make it happen.”
Godwin said that “hopefully” the Lumbee Tribe’s long march toward full recognition will end during the current congressional session. He said that in addition to the support of the three Republican members of Congress, Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has officially pledged his support and there has been a resolution of support passed by the N.C. Commission of Indian Affairs.
Pittenger is optimistic concerning progress being made toward full recognition for the tribe.
“Congressman Hudson and I had a planning meeting on Friday with Congressman Rob Bishop, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, and Congressman Doug LaMalfa, chairman of the Subcommittee on Indian Affairs,” Pittenger said in a statement. “Earlier this week, we also had a very good meeting with Chairman Godwin and Sen. Burr. In addition, I spoke this week with senior White House officials who want to also be engaged in this process. There are various options we will consider and pursue to seek a positive outcome for the Lumbee Tribe.”
Hudson on Friday praised Godwin and his efforts to get long 0verdue recognition for his people.
“… I am encouraged by the great strides he has taken on behalf of the Lumbees, as well as his vision for their future,” Hudson said in a statement. “This comes down to an issue of fairness. The Lumbees are the only tribe to receive partial federal recognition, yet they’ve been barred from going through the normal recognition process. That’s why I’ve worked hard since my first days in office to pass legislation that rightfully grants the Lumbee Tribe recognition. I remain committed to working with Chairman Godwin, Sen. Richard Burr and Rep. Robert Pittenger to get the Lumbee Tribe the fairness and respect they deserve from the federal government.”
Godwin said that full federal recognition will not only help the Lumbee Tribe, but will result in many benefits for Robeson County. Estimates are that hundreds of millions of dollars could come into the county for housing, health care and economic development.
“It will take pressure off the county schools and Department of Social Services,” he said. “There will also be more homes constructed and jobs created.”
North Carolina formally recognized the Lumbee Tribe in 1885, and three years later, in 1888, the tribe began its quest for federal recognition. In 1956, Congress passed legislation recognizing the tribe, but the legislation did not provide for the Lumbees, a tribe of about 55,000 members, to receive federal benefits granted other federally recognized tribes.
The closest the tribe has come to full recognition was 2009, when former Rep. Mike McIntyre ushered a bill through the House, with it being approved on June 3 of that year in a 240 to 179 vote. The bill went to the U.S. Senate, whose Committee on Indian Affairs approved the legislation, which did not allow gaming. The Senate adjourned that session without ever taking action on the bill.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.