By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
WASHINGTON, D.C. — As 2010 winds to a close, members of the Lumbee tribe still hold out hope that Congress will grant them full federal recognition before closing its 111th session.
North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan told the media last week that the 55,000-member tribe may still get its wish if she can attach the bill to the Continuing Resolution legislation, which the Senate is likely to pass within the next week to keep the federal government running into next year.
Already approved by the House of Representatives, the bill also won the favor of a Senate committee, but has since stalled, some say because of the tribe’s growing association with the gambling industry. Although the bill specifically prohibits the tribe from opening a casino, members of the Tribal Council fired their longtime lobbyist late last year and contracted with a gaming company called Lewin International.
The Fayetteville Observer reported that the move perturbed interests in Washington. Nonetheless, Council members have continued to align themselves with the gambling industry. After the Lewin contract fell through in June, they hired Anderson Tuell LLP, the firm of Michael Anderson, one of “Gaming’s 10 Most Influential People” according to Global Gaming Business magazine.
Still, Lumbee leaders insist their push for legislation is not about gambling but simply recognition as a legitimate tribe. At stake is an estimated $100 million in benefits including medical care, child welfare, community development, scholarships and more. Recognized by North Carolina since the 1880s, the tribe won partial recognition from the federal government in 1956 but was denied the benefits.
As a way to encourage their bill’s passage, the Lumbees had agreed to forego gaming rights, a privilege that typically accompanies tribal status via the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. And former Lumbee lobbyist Arlinda Locklear had touted the legislation’s chances for success during an April presentation, pointing to the fact that President Obama had gone on record in support of the bill.
“For the first time in the last 125 years we have the support of the administration behind our bill,” Locklear told an audience at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
Similarly, UNC-Pembroke Professor Mary Ann Jacobs told UNC-TV’s North Carolina NOW during a July broadcast that the future of the bill looked brighter than ever.
“For the first time, this year the Bureau of Indian Affairs is in support of Lumbee recognition,” she said.
Sen. Richard Burr (R) had joined Hagan in support of the bill.
But according to the Charlotte Observer, several other Republicans had put holds on the Lumbee bill this year, preventing it from being able to move quickly through the Senate as a stand-alone bill. Some other tribes also oppose the Lumbee effort.
“We have no doubt that many of the Lumbee people simply want to have their heritage rightly recognized, but gaming is not the answer to their social ills. And gaming is where this is headed,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina. “We understand that the bill precludes a casino, but if this should pass, it would be hard to justify allowing one tribe in North Carolina to have a gambling operation while prohibiting another the same privilege.”
Opening the door for a casino in eastern North Carolina, the heart of Lumbee country, would be especially harmful to those already living at or below the poverty level, which includes some 30 percent of Roberson County residents.
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, would quickly expand into a “full-blown gambling destination for the Southeast” and would create thousands of new gambling addicts.
“Legislation like this is too important to tack on to another bill. We urge Sen. Hagan not to try to slip it in,” the Rev. Creech said.