We’ve had a good view of multiple failed journeys toward federal recognition for the Lumbee Tribe, and this one feels like it has a chance for a different and more satisfying ending.
No one pushed harder for federal recognition for the Lumbee than did former U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre, the Lumberton native who spent nine terms representing the 7th District in the U.S. House, which at that time included all of Robeson County. In 2007 and 2009, McIntyre succeeded in getting House approval of a recognition bill, but both times it died without a vote in the Senate.
But even as the bill was making its way through the House, it always appeared to be mired in an uphill slog. There was just never a sense of belief that this 60-year-old wrong was going to be righted.
But we have more optimism now than ever before.
There are key elected officials lining up hard behind recognition, to include U.S. Sen. Richard Burr and U.S. Reps. Robert Pittenger, whose 9th District includes all of Robeson County, and Richard Hudson, whose 8th District includes a robust Lumbee population. Add as well Gov. Roy Cooper.
Burr’s support is especially noteworthy as he has been in Congress for 22 years, the last 12 as a senator, and he is powerful as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Burr not only is supportive, but is engaged, last week entertaining Lumbee Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin and Pittenger and Hudson in his office, during which conversation focused on the path forward.
As impressive as Godwin’s company was that day, we know as this is being written on Tuesday afternoon that the chairman was poised to vist the White House — yes, that one, at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
We were not privy on Tuesday to information such as with whom Godwin would meet, and it was also unknown what would be said, but this is plain: The White House appears poised to provide some tailwind to the recognition effort, which we can presume is President Trump’s way of thanking an historically blue county that went red during the November General Election, from the top of the ticket on downward through Congress and to the Governor’s Office.
The Lumbee recognition effort also appears to be benefiting from a slackening headwind.
It has been no secret that the Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation has long been an opponent of Lumbee recognition, concerned about having to share the pie with a tribe that numbers 60,000-strong. Although the Cherokee have never been vocal publicly in their opposition, privately they have waged campaigns, and done so successfully, with pockets stuffed with casino cash and some of the best lobbyists that money can buy.
The Cherokee appear otherwise occupied currently, having gone through some leadership changes while at the same time dealing with funding issues related to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. We are told that while there has been friction between the leadership of the two tribes, on the grass-roots level things are different, and there are actually partnerships being formed and fostered.
It is hard to predict what government will do, and at what pace. But the moons appear to be lining up favorably for federal recognition for the Lumbee tribe, with powerful Republicans in charge and in support, and previous resistance in retreat.