Soon enough the world will know if the Lumbee Tribal Government is a slave to its constitution, or if the words on that document crafted a dozen years ago don’t matter at all.
There is no real resistance to a petition drive that seeks enough names to bring forth a referendum that would allow tribal members to decide whether the current Tribal Council should be scrapped in favor of a smaller one.
The effort is being led by Eric Locklear, a self-anointed community activist who every two weeks sends The Robesonian a letter to the editor with the same message and the words only slightly rearranged: That the Tribal Council, with 21 members, is bloated, violates the constitution, and those who sit on it are more interested in drawing a salary and taking expensive trips than working for the betterment of the people they serve.
The message is resonating with the people, which isn’t an upset. The public’s default position is to doubt our elected officials, even as we keep sending them back to office. Few things in politics are tougher than toppling an incumbent.
Locklear promises that there will easily be enough signatures to require the referendum when he takes the petition to the tribal government for its meeting on Sept. 15. But the smart money is that a referendum will not be held in advance of the tribe’s November elections as the clock doesn’t favor that happening, and tribal officials are already sending signals suggesting that just could not be managed.
A 21-member council is a bit excessive for a government with 50,000 members; the Robeson County Board of Commissioners has just eight members to serve a county of 135,000 people. We know that the the Tribal Council meetings are frequently long and disorganized, and that part of the problem is too many people talking at the same time. There are also 21 people drawing a salary and being reimbursed for expenses, which drains a government without taxing power.
But this conversation is best had among tribal members, and ultimately, if Locklear’s petition drive does succeed, it will be up to the tribal members to decide the size of the council. That assumes that the government honors the petition and calls for a referendum.
If that doesn’t happen, then the Tribal Council will have invalidated the very document from which its members draw their power — and they will have revealed themselves to be all that Locklear claims, motivated by self-interest and not a desire to make better the day-to-day plight of the Lumbee people.