‘Nobody wins when gambling enters the picture,’ says Executive Director
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
PEMBROKE — “Disagreement is a good thing,” the Lumbee Tribal Council wrote to constituents earlier this month in attempt to calm ruffled feathers over a controversial contract signed with a gaming company. But with gambling in the picture and the chances for federal recognition perhaps starting to wane, the Council may find itself with too much of a “good thing.”
“Gambling is not even here yet and already the possibility is causing strife,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “Nobody wins when gambling enters the picture.”
After decades of battling for full recognition as an Indian tribe — complete with millions of dollars in federal benefits and lacking only the privilege of gaming rights — the Lumbees at last had their bill passed by the House and headed for a vote in the Senate when the Council switched course two months ago and hired gaming consultant Lewin International to step in as its lobbyist.
“Fifty-four years is too long to wait and if we can find allies who will help this Tribe, we have an obligation to enlist their support,” the Council’s recent letter to the Lumbee people asserted. But many question whether Lewin is there to help the Lumbees or to help itself to the tribe’s assets, especially in light of the contract’s provisions, which give the company sole development rights and 30 percent of proceeds if gambling does become part of the picture or $35 million if a gaming friendly bill is approved but the tribe votes against pursuing a casino.
“This contract is deeply flawed …” Malinda Maynor Lowery, an assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of a new book about her tribe, told Lumbee leaders. “… If the Council does not take action to reverse itself, I am fearful that the consequences will be felt for generations to come, not just financially, but for our People’s freedom to exercise our powers of autonomous government.”
Lowery, who describes herself as having no particular objection to Lewin or even to gaming, is most concerned about the messages the Council’s actions are sending to members of the tribe and to lawmakers.
“Why is Lewin the only entity allowed to speak on behalf of the Tribe in recognition matters? … If the tribe has not changed its position on gaming, then why hire a casino management firm to lobby on behalf of a bill that prohibits gaming and then sign a contract with that firm that amounts to a gaming management agreement?” she asked in a letter to her district Councilman James Locklear. “If the contract is purely an agreement to obtain lobbying services for the current bill, why has no lobbyist registered on behalf of our bill?”
Similar questions rang out May 7 during a Lumbee “family” meeting as well, a meeting held at UNC Pembroke, closed to the press, and called by the Tribal Council to try to allay fears and persuade the Lumbees that it is the media and others outside the tribe that are jeopardizing the recognition effort.
But Lowery said in a recent radio interview that the contract itself will endanger the recognition bill because the Council has “flip-flopped” on its position, which “makes us look like liars.”
According to a Fayetteville Observer article, Sen. Richard Burr still supports the bill as long as it does not include gaming. Sen. Kay Hagan has also expressed her support. But attorney Arlinda Locklear, who had led the lobbying effort for two decades until the Lewin deal was sealed, told the media that lawmakers won’t be eager to consider the bill now.
Despite the Tribal Council’s contention that it is not embracing gaming, experts say there is no getting around the issue.
“These days, federal recognition of tribal groups is always about gaming,” said Kathryn Rand, co-director of the Institute for the Study of Tribal Gaming Law and Policy at the University of North Dakota. “Even if the tribal group is not motivated by gaming, outsiders will think it is. Indian gaming unquestionably has politicized federal recognition.”
The Rev. Creech said he could understand the Lumbee’s quest for federal recognition, but the risk of bringing more gambling to North Carolina, especially along the I-95 corridor, is not worth the federal funds. The North Carolina Family Policy Council has also spoken out against the potential for a casino.
“Most vulnerable to the social and economic impact of gambling on the area would be the over half-a-million people living in Robeson and its surrounding counties,” wrote NCFPC researchers in a 2004 position paper on the issue. “Studies show that a negative economic impact would be severe on the retail and restaurant businesses of any areas within a two-hour driving time, especially those that depend on tourism and retirement populations.”
The 50,000-member Lumbee tribe is the largest east of the Mississippi.