PEMBROKE — The chairman of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina called Monday’s signing of a partnership agreement between his tribe, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the N.C. Division of Emergency Management an “historical” event and the first of “baby steps” leading the Lumbee Tribe toward full federal recognition.
The partnership, officially signed during a ceremony at the Tribal Administration Complex, better known as the Turtle, was attended by several staff members from FEMA and state Emergency Management. Along with Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin, they spoke of a partnership that will bring all available resources together in an effort to help in the region’s recovery from Hurricane Matthew.
“This is the first time that such an agreement between a state recognized tribe and a federal agency, in this case FEMA, has been signed,” Godwin said. “This is something that has only been available in the past to federally recognized tribes.”
Godwin said that the partnership will not just benefit the Lumbee Tribe, but will help everyone in Robeson County.
“The hurricane brought us all together … . This will not just help people, but show that we can manage resources and be prudent in carrying out programs,” he said. “I promise that the Lumbee Tribe will make you proud when we begin creating better lives for the Lumbee people.”
According to Godwin, for the next 90 days there will be a team of five FEMA and state Emergency Management employees staying in Robeson County and working directly with the tribe on its hurricane recovery efforts.
“They will be our mentors,” he said. “They will teach us how to identify our needs and help us find the resources we need in such areas as Indian health services, education and economic development,” he said.
Libby Turner, a FEMA coordinating officer, said her agency will work closely with the tribe in developing long-term planning for hurricane recovery and bringing in the resources to meet local needs.
“We work in partnerships, and that includes philanthropy, foundations and volunteers,” she said.
Turner said that FEMA places an emphasis on determining and addressing the needs of individual communities.
“We try to understand the needs of the community and not just provide the assistance that law requires,” she said.
Nicholas Burk, of N.C. Emergency Management, said that his agency has been assisting with immediate and long-range hurricane recovery in Robeson County since Hurricane Matthew swept through the area on Oct. 8. and across a long process before Hurricane Mathew recovery efforts end.
“It’s a long process before we get to the end,” he said.
Godwin has been busy in recent weeks pushing for federal recognition, having met recently with U.S. Sen. Richard Burr and U.S. Reps. Robert Pittenger and Richard Hudson in Burr’s office in Washington, D.C. Last week Godwin won an invited to the White House, during which he talked with staff about federal recognition.
Godwin has even said he believes recognition could come before the end of the calendar year, potentially bringing hundreds of millions of dollars into the county for housing, health and economic development.
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 Lumbee, 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. The Senate adjourned that session without ever taking action on the bill.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.