PEMBROKE — The Lumbee Tribe won an important ally today when Gov. Roy Cooper officially announced his strong support of the tribe being granted full federal recognition.
Cooper, at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke this morning to address the Lumbee Tribe’s second annual Economic Summit, won a standing ovation from the crowd when he pledged to do everything in his power to see that the federal government grants the tribe the recognition members have been seeking for years.
“It is way past time for the federal government to recognize the Lumbee Tribe,” said Cooper. “…I pledge to try to do the best I can to make this happen.”
Cooper said he has “officially requested” North Carolina’s 13-member congressional delegation to stand together and support the Lumbee people in their effort to obtain full federal recognition. Recognition would benefit the Lumbee people and improve the lives of everyone throughout Southeastern North Carolina, he said.
“There has been frustration over the years that this has not happened,” said Cooper, a Democrat. “I have sent my letter to Congress asking for support of the tribe.”
Cooper said Hurricane Matthew, while a devastating blow to Robeson County, may actually have helped hit home the reason that federal recognition for the Lumbee Tribe is so important.
“We know that the initial response to the hurricane would have been better if the tribe had the recognition it deserved,” Cooper said.
The governor’s announcement was well received by members of the tribe.
“I appreciate Gov. Cooper’s support of full federal recognition for the Lumbee Tribe and am pleased he made this announcement on the campus of UNC Pembroke,” Chancellor Robin Cummings said. “The governor’s announcement advances a vital bipartisan effort which includes strong support from (U.S.) Sen. (Richard) Burr and Congressman (Robert) Pittenger. Recognition is long overdue and would have a transformative effect not only on the Lumbee people but our entire region.”
Joshua Malcolm, UNCP’s general counsel and a member of the state Board of Elections, said it is the first time in his knowledge that a sitting governor has forwarded a written request to the state’s congressional delegation asking for support of full federal recognition for the Lumbee Tribe.
“The fact that the governor chose to announce this on the campus of UNCP is not only symbolic, but also the right thing to do since UNCP is the only traditional American Indian university in the UNC system,” Malcolm said.
Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin Jr. also praised Cooper’s decision to put his pledge to work for Lumbee recognition in writing and to request in a letter to the state’s congressional delegation that they do the same.
“The letter shows his commitment for recognition and is an effort to get a bipartisan commitment for recognition from leaders in North Carolina,” Godwin said.
Cooper’s comments were “encouraging,” said Bobby Oxendine, Lumbee Tribal Council speaker
“Sending the letter to our delegation in D.C. was a great move,” Oxendine said. “It will have an impact.”
Gary Locklear, a retired state Superior Court judge, commended Cooper for “saying wonderful things” about what is needed by the Lumbee Tribe.
“He has set lofty goals, but they are doable,” Locklear said. “I have full faith that he can do it. He’s a proven friend of the Lumbee.”
This is the second positive step forward for Lumbee recognition efforts in the past two weeks. Recently the U.S. House of Representatives gave voice approval to a bill that would grant federal recognition to six tribes in Virginia that, like the Lumbee, have been seeking federal recognition for years. Lumbee leaders are optimistic that similar legislative tactics can be used to move forward the 2017 Lumbee Recognition Bill that has been introduced in the House and the Senate.
North Carolina formally recognized the Lumbee Tribe in 1885, and three years later the tribe began its quest for federal recognition. Congress passed legislation in 1956 recognizing the tribe, but the legislation did not provide for the Lumbees, a tribe of about 55,000 members, to receive federal benefits granted other federally recognized tribes.
Federal recognition for the Lumbee could mean hundreds of millions of dollars in federal benefits.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.