PEMBROKE — Members of the Lumbee Tribal Council will borrow “unrestricted” tribal funds to attend two national conferences next month, but tribal leaders say the money will be well spent because Lumbee interests, including protecting more than $13 million the tribe receives annually in federal funding, will be defended.
“There is a continuing battle going on between the state and federally recognized tribes over federal funding,” said Pearlean Revels, the Tribal Council’s speaker. “We need to be as well represented at these conferences as possible. If we are not at the table the Lumbee will be written out.”
The first conference, which is in Alaska, focuses on housing interests. It is sponsored by the National American Indian Housing Council and will be attended by state and federally recognized tribes from across the country. Revels said information about housing programs and how to best use federal funding is presented.
Alex Baker, a tribal spokesman, also said that during the upcoming Alaska conference the National American Indian Housing Council will be electing officers and looking at amending bylaws. He said that the Lumbee Tribe needs friends of state-recognized tribes to be elected officers.
The 21-member council is sending 13 members to the conference at a cost of about $55,000, according to tribal officials. Earlier this week, Revels said, the council agreed to borrow $23,000 in “unrestricted” tribal funds — money that is not provided by HUD — to help pay for travel expenses to Alaska and a second conference being held in Lincoln, Neb.
Revels said the council itself has the authority to use the undesignated funds, but is doing so only after consulting with members of the tribal administration.
“We discussed this with the administration, and they appeared to have no problems with it,” Revels said.
Five council members will attend the conference in Nebraska. That conference is being sponsored by the National Conference of American Indians.
Baker described the National Conference of Indians as the governing body that advocates for all American Indian tribes.
“There are 13 million reasons we need to be there,” Baker said, citing the amount of federal funding the tribe receives annually. “… There is a strong movement all across federal departments to re-define ‘Indian.’ If we are not at the table, it could have a devastating impact on the Lumbee people.”
Eric Locklear, a self-proclaimed community activist, contends that the money could be better used to serve immediate housing needs of tribal members.
“This trade show is not a required administration conference of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development,” he said.
Locklear told The Robesonian that since the Tribal Council has exhausted its annual travel allocation for the year on the Alaska venture, he is concerned that there will be no money to send Lumbee representative to Nebraska, a conference he contends is more important for protecting Lumbee interests.
“There is no voting in Alaska,” he said. “There is voting at the Congress of American Indians conference. That conference is where federally recognized players try to push unrecognized tribes to the side. Having the potential of not being there puts all of our tribal members at risk.”
Revels dismissed Locklear’s allegations, stating that he has “personal reasons” for opposing actions of the Tribal Council.
“We have the money to attend the Nebraska conference,” Revels said. “We will have representatives at the table.”
Locklear, who ran unsuccessfully for the Tribal Council, has said the government is illegitimate because the way council members are elected violates the constitution. He is trying to have the government dismantled through a petition drive.
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.