WASHINGTON, D.C. — Paul Brooks, chairman of the Lumbee Tribe, on Thursday told members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs that the federal government’s administrative process for recognizing tribes is not working.
“The federal process is broken. It takes too long, costs too much and is inconsistent,” Brooks said.
The Senate committee hearing focused on the two ways the government recognizes American Indian tribes — through the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs and congressional legislation.
“The basis was to discuss the efficiencies, or lack thereof, regarding the federal acknowledgement process at the Bureau of Indian Affairs,” said Brooks, who along with representatives of other unrecognized federal tribes expressed their concerns about the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ acknowledgment process.
Brooks was given the opportunity to testify at Thursday’s hearing because there is no administrative acknowledgement process through the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the Lumbee people to pursue. Congress passed the Lumbee Act in 1956, but due to a statement in the legislation — “nothing in this act shall make Indians eligible for any services performed by the United States because of their status as Indians” — the tribe has been ineligible to receive federal benefits.
In 1989, the Lumbee Tribe petitioned the Bureau of Indian Affairs for federal recognition, seeking removal of the language in the legislation forbidding the tribe to receive federal services. In response, the Secretary of the Interior requested a review of the Lumbee Act of 1956 from the Office of the Solicitor.
It was the Solicitor Office’s opinion that the acknowledgement regulations do not apply to groups that are the subject of congressional legislation terminating or forbidding the federal relationship. As a result, the Lumbee Tribe is ineligible to participate in the administrative process through the BIA and can only gain federal recognition by an act of Congress.
“While the Lumbee have been recognized by a congressional act, the solicitor’s refusal to acknowledge the well-established government to government relationship between us and the United States has been detrimental to the tribe by allowing social and economic disparities to continue to widen,” Brooks said.
Brooks also told the committee that the “various means of federal recognition have failed the Lumbee.”
“The Constitution of the United States makes Congress responsible for the well-being of indigenous peoples and neither does it delineate or create classifications of tribes,” he said. “The United States Congress has a responsibility to my people to deal with them as they do with other tribes across this country, without regard to recognition status.”
Although the Lumbee cannot use the BIA process to obtain federal recognition, Brooks told The Robesonian shortly after the hearing that other unrecognized tribes could benefit by the BIA process being re-tooled.
“Everything went well,” he said. “I’m sure our comments will be considered by the committee. Hopefully regulations will be loosened up and the process eased.”
In regards to the current Lumbee Recognition Bill pending in the Congress, Brooks said there is still a “good possibility” that it could get to the Senate floor for a vote before the current congressional session ends late this year. The bill, he said, has already been approved by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.
Approval of the Lumbee Recognition Bill would mean hundreds of millions of dollars available to the tribe for housing, education, health care and economic development.
The Lumbee is the largest tribe east of the Mississippi River, with most of its more than 55,000 members living in Robeson, Hoke, Scotland and Cumberland counties