PEMBROKE — U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell isn’t waiting to see if he’s re-elected to represent the state’s 8th Congressional District before jumping in to help with the Lumbee Tribe’s federal recognition efforts and to address concerns Lumbee leaders have that the state’s non-federally recognized tribes may eventually lose all federal money they now receive.
“You have brought ideas to us already and we are working on six different things,” the congressman told Lumbee leaders during last week’s visit to the Lumbee Housing Complex just outside Pembroke. “That’s exciting.”
During the filming of a video with the congressman that will soon appear on the tribe’s website, Tribal Chairman Paul Brooks expressed concerns about a draft study coming out of the Government Accountability Office dealing with federal funding to the nation’s non-federally recognized tribes. The report was created at the request of U.S. Rep. Dan Boren through the House Subcommittee on American Indian and Alaska Native Affairs.
“The Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina requests that the GAO revisit this entire draft as it was written from the perspective of those who oppose state-recognized tribes,” Brooks said in a letter to Emily Hanawalt, senior analyst with the GAO. “This report should give a broader view of the need being addressed by the funds, not just the funds that are being provided to state-recognized tribes without any review of the percentage in relationship to all of Indian Country.”
According to Ed Brooks, the tribe’s attorney, the study provides a “road map” to remove state-recognized tribes from the definition of Indians. State-recognized tribes, who are not federally recognized, could then be considered ineligible to receive federal funding, Brooks said.
“If our North Carolina delegation doesn’t pay attention to the study, it could cause millions of dollars to be lost to North Carolina’s economy,” Ed Brooks said. “This is a state issue, not just a tribal issue. This would directly affect those tribal members who receive federal benefits.”
Kissell told Chairman Brooks that he is reviewing the issue with both the GAO and the congressional committee that requested the study. He said he also plans to recommend that another GAO study be done to show the importance of federal funding to state-recognized tribes, as well as the benefit these funds provide local communities.
Kissell, a Democrat, and Lumbee leaders have met several times to discuss the tribe’s continuing legislative efforts to obtain federal recognition. Because of redistricting, Kissell’s District 8 will include most of Robeson County after the November election; all of the county in the past has been represented by U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre, also a Democrat and a longtime supporter of federal recognition for the tribe.
Although the tribe was federally recognized in 1956, Congress has not granted the tribe the same benefits that other federally recognized tribes receive.
Chairman Brooks told Kissell that economic development and jobs are the key to a bright future for the Lumbee Tribe, as well as Robeson and surrounding counties.
“I’d like to see where we don’t have to depend on NAHSDA (Native American Housing and Self-Determination Act) to move in a positive direction,” Paul Brooks said. “I’d like to see us move our people away from ‘give me’ to ‘can I go to work?’”
Also during his visit Monday, the congressman donned a hard hat and was given a tour of the District 6, 7, and 8 Boys and Girls Club now under construction behind the tribal housing complex on N.C. 711. Recently how much space should be allotted in the center for use by the Pembroke Heritage Group, an elders organization, has been a sore point between members of the Tribal Council and the tribal chairman.
JoAnn Chavis Lowery, president of the elders group, has told the council on more than one occasion that the original allocation of 540 square feet was not enough to provide for her organization’s activities.
At last month’s regular council meeting, council members passed a resolution requiring space for the elders be increased to 1,274 square feet. To up the space to that size will require eliminating walls for office space that have already been put in place.
Last year, the council passed a resolution prohibiting construction of walls for administrative space in the building, arguing that the walls would reduce the space originally allotted to the elders for their programs. The walls, however, were constructed with the approval of Paul Brooks.
In February, council members passed a motion that the walls be torn down. Paul Brooks, however, told the council that to change the original plans for the building could jeopardize federal funding.
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.