PEMBROKE —The speaker of the Lumbee Tribal Council on Wednesday defended the council’s decision to send 13 of the council’s 21 members to a conference in Alaska that focuses on housing issues affecting American Indian tribes.
“This is all about housing,” Pearlean Revels said. “It’s not just a trade show. … This is not about a vacation for council members and their families.”
The conference, to be held in early June, is sponsored by the National American Indian Housing Council. It is attended by state and federally recognized tribes from across the country. Revels said that the conference offers a number of informational sessions at one time, and it will take a large delegation to attend all of them.
“This is housing intensive information,” she said. “This is where you get guidance on how to administer housing programs and how best to use federal funding.”
Revels and Alex Baker, the tribe’s director of Communications, said that the information brought back from the conference will be used to improve services for tribal members.
Revels said that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, through which the tribe receives funding for housing programs, “encourages” tribal participation in housing conferences like the one to be held in Alaska.
“We have no control on where these conferences are held,” Revels said. “We have to go where the Indian populations are. Council members have attended similar conferences in the past in other parts of the country.”
Revels confirmed that the Tribal Council had to amend its travel budget by several thousand dollars to pay for council members to attend the conference. As of Wednesday, however, she did not know how much the trip is expected to cost.
Revels emphasized that any relatives of council members who travel to Alaska will be doing so at their own expense.
Revels and Baker both stressed that it is important that the Lumbee tribe be well represented at a national conference like the one in Alaska so that the tribe’s interests, including more than $13 million in federal funding annually, can be protected.
“Folks all across the federal departments are trying to re-define ‘Indian’,” Baker said. “If we are not at the table, the Lumbee will be written out. There is a battle on hand between the state and federally recognized tribes regarding federal funding.”
Baker added that at the upcoming Alaska conference the National American Indian Housing Council will be electing officers and looking at amending the council’s bylaws.
“We need friends of state-recognized tribes as officers,” Baker said.
Revels agreed: “We need to be at the table so that the Lumbee have the right to determine our own future and not have our future imposed on us by others,” she said.
Revels also said that there is no truth to what is being said about the Lumbee Tribal Council having frozen the tribe’s entire annual budget.
“It is not frozen,” Revels said. “All that was frozen was vacant positions. We used the process to stop hiring employees so that we could get a grip on how many employees the tribe has.”“
Revels said that there is still a freeze on vacant positions as the council isl looking into the number of employees the tribe has in relationship to the amount of funding available for employees.
In a letter sent to The Robesonian that is awaiting publication, Eric Locklear blasted the council’s plans to attend the Alaska conference.
‘This trade show is not a required administration conference of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development,” Locklear said. “HUD has previously demonstrated concern with the LTNC tribal council’s use of federal funds for travel and the volume of such.”
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or email@example.com.