They insist it’s not about gaming but hire another lobbyist known for his influence in the gambling industry
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
PEMBROKE — The largest Native American tribe east of the Mississippi continues to send mixed signals to United States lawmakers in its bid for federal recognition — insisting that the push is not about gaming but hiring yet another lobbyist known for his influence in the gambling industry.
The Lumbee tribe, some 55,000 strong and centered in Robeson County, won only limited recognition in 1956 when the government acknowledged members as Indians but denied them access to federal services. Now at stake, with a bill before the Senate, is an estimated $100 million in benefits including medical care, child welfare, community development, scholarships and more.
To encourage the recognition bill’s passage, a provision was added to preclude the Lumbees from having gaming rights, a privilege that typically accompanies tribal status via the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. But a backdoor deal by some members of the Lumbee Tribal Council late last year replaced longtime lobbyist Arlinda Locklear with a gaming company called Lewin International. The ill-fated contract — which would have required the Lumbees to let Lewin run their gambling operation or pay the company $35 million if Congress granted recognition with gaming rights — fell through in June, with the tribe deciding against any casinos. Now, in a similarly clandestine move, Tribal Chairman Purnell Swett has hired AndersonTuell LLP to represent the tribe in Congress.
Michael Anderson, partner in the Indian-owned law firm, was last fall named one of “Gaming’s 10 Most Influential People” by Global Gaming Business magazine. His firm Web site lists a range of legal services and he has varied experience from prior stints with the U.S. Department of the Interior as Associate Solicitor and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs among other posts, but his expertise in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act stands out. As part of the Clinton administration (deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Indian Affairs), Anderson approved over 100 gaming compacts.
“So when Anderson talks about Native American issues, people listen — especially Congress,” says GGB’s September 2009 issue.
“All signs point to this firm being effective in its lobbying efforts, but unfortunately all signs also point to gaming being at the root of the Lumbee leaders’ push for recognition,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, which opposes the bill because of its potential to bring more casinos to the state. “If this were not about getting gaming rights, why wouldn’t the Council have stuck with their longtime lobbyist who had helped push the bill through the House more than once and had reported it was closer than ever to winning final approval?”
“We hope this is our year,” Attorney Locklear had said during an April 2010 presentation at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. “For the first time in the last 125 years we have the support of the administration behind our bill. President Obama has gone on record to support the bill.”
“For the first time, this year the Bureau of Indian Affairs is in support of Lumbee recognition,” UNC-Pembroke Professor Mary Ann Jacobs told UNC-TV’s North Carolina NOW during a July broadcast. Both Senators Kay Hagan (D) and Richard Burr (R) support the bill with Burr saying that if it can be tacked on to a popular bill, the “objections of a handful of members of Congress that represent other tribal communities” would be the final hurdle.
Meanwhile back in Robeson County, though the Council is united in its push for recognition, there is still not complete consensus on the best way to secure it.
According to the Fayetteville Observer, at least five of the 21 Tribal Council representatives opposed the AndersonTuell hire, which was announced earlier this month because they have yet to see the contract or hear any details about its terms. Although the tribe’s constitution gives the chairman the right to represent the tribe, “before all other governments and tribunals,” members disagree as to whether that includes the authority to hire a lobbyist without a council vote.
The Lumbee Sovereignty Coalition, a grassroots group which formed in response to the Lewin fiasco, has continued its scrutiny of the tribal government and maintains its call for transparency. The coalition, which has no formal position on gaming, has sponsored a number of community meetings to help empower Lumbees to hold their Council accountable to the Tribe’s constitution and to get involved with federal recognition efforts. Filing for seven Tribal Council positions opened earlier this past week with the vote set for Nov. 9. It remains to be seen how incumbents will fair or whether activists will seek election.
“We’re glad to see this watchdog group is staying vigilant, especially since if recognition is won, it will be the Tribal Council who administers federal funds, and handling decisions in the open will be more important than ever,” said the Rev. Creech. “Considering the controversy already going on here, adding the gambling industry to the mix would only be a nightmare.”
North Carolina Family Policy Council researchers pointed out in a 2004 publication that a casino in Robeson County would be the only one on I-95 between New Jersey and Florida and would quickly expand into a “full-blown gambling destination for the Southeast” and would create thousands of new gambling addicts.
Michael Anderson, the Lumbees’ new lobbyist, predicted in a 2008 speech at the Global Gaming Expo that over the next two to five years, “perhaps a dozen or more landless tribes will open facilities and three to five newly recognized tribes will initiate gaming facilities.”
“Let us pray that, if Anderson is right, Robeson County — where already some 30 percent of people live below the poverty level — isn’t the location of one of those facilities,” said the Rev. Creech. “Our hearts go out to the Lumbee people and their quest to have their heritage recognized, but gaming is not the answer to their social ills.”