Conversation on Lumbee River should be muted

So what’s in a name?

Apparently enough substance that the Lumbee Tribal Council, in an odd bit of timing, passed a resolution on Thursday night that seeks to have the General Assembly change the name of the Lumber River to the Lumbee River. The council tried that in 2009 and it didn’t float far.

The timing is curious because on Tuesday a U.S. House panel is scheduled to hold a hearing on federal recognition for the Lumbee tribe during a time when there appears to be more momentum than ever for that to be acheived.

While we do believe the tribe is capable of juggling two balls at once, it seems to us there is a lot more upside for the tribe to keep its eye squarely on the federal-recognition ball. Renaming the Lumber River the Lumbee River is not going to advance healthcare, educational opportunities or housing options for the 55,000 members of the tribe.

Chairman Harvey Godwin, who was initially and mistakenly reported to be in favor of the resolution, seems to understand that. His position is made more clear in a page 1A story in today’s The Robesonian.

The resolution came out of the council’s Federal Recognition Committee, which is chaired by Jarrod Lowery. He told The Robesonian there are no plans for a campaign for a name change.

Then what is the point?

“We’re just sending a letter to our state legislative delegation and legislative leaders,” Lowery said. “Hopefully this will begin a conversation that is important to lot of our people.”

The Lumber River is vital to the Lumbee — and the rest of us — but we have not heard any drumbeat for a name change.

The problem with this conversation, as it is when Confederate monuments are the topic, is that the words almost always divide and rarely unite. We never hear a voice raised in opposition of Lumbee federal recognition, but on Friday, the day after the resolution’s passage, we heard voices raised in opposition to the renaming of the river.

The tribe needs an all-hands-on-board approach to federal recognition, and this is a conversation that will alienate some.

The 133-mile river, which encompasses most of the Lumber River State Park, brings so much that adds vibrance to our lives, including water, recreation, wildlife and scenery. Without it, Lumberton and Robeson County don’t exist as they are now.

But the river belongs to all of us, not to the Lumbee, who are not the majority of people who live along its banks. The majority are the rest of us.

And just as the Lumbee were here before the Europeans, the Lumber River was here before the Lumbee. We don’t understand any claim to ownership.

We would full endorse — and doubt anyone would oppose — a formal recognition of the tribe’s centuries-long alliance with the black-water river, perhaps signs with verbage that explain the river was once called the Lumbee and why.

A name change is going to require the full support of all the legislators that represent Robeson County, which isn’t going to happen, but if that could be mustered, we still don’t see passage in the General Assembly.

So the conversation becomes moot. Therefore, it would be best muted.