PEMBROKE — The Lumbee Tribal Council rescinded a resolution Thursday calling upon the builders of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to consult with the tribe about the environment and cultural resources.
Council Speaker Anita Hammonds Blanks made the announcement after a lengthy and sometimes heated public commentary period in which the resolution approved June 14 on a 9-8 vote, with four members absent, was the dominant topic. Hammonds said the resolution was rescinded rather than subject the tribe’s members to a lengthy fight between the council and tribal administration.
Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin Jr. said earlier this week that he would veto the resolution that reads in part, “Therefore, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline … and the Lumbee Tribe of NC … agree to work jointly on protecting environmental and cultural resources impacted by pipeline construction and operation. And, to collaborate with the Tribe on its ability to provide safe, livable homeland for its members and residents; and therefore it be finally resolved that the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina’s Tribal Council accepts an agreement to work jointly in the future by meaningful Tribal consultation, as defined by the Tribe, providing job training opportunities available to its membership and detailed monitoring of the discovery and treatment and management of culturally and environmentally sensitive areas and resources along the pipeline construction route (ie graves, artifacts, streams, swamps, trees, and religious or sacred grounds) through enhanced communication and detailed working relationship between the two entities.”
Eleven people rose during the meeting at the Lumbee Tribe’s administration building to speak about the resolution and how it came to be. The comments sometimes were passionate and invoked exclamations of agreement and applause from the more than 50 people crowding the council’s chambers. Individual speakers accused council members of selling out the tribe and its land, turning their backs on the land and future generations and blasted the closed-door discussion of the resolution as unconstitutional.
Heather Norai said the discussions behind closed doors violated the tribe’s constitution because the topic did not pertain to issues of privacy related to the people or the tribe’s employees. She accused the council members of ignoring comments made by tribal members.
“It hurt me to see someone from my community vote in favor of this pipeline,” said Kent Collins, who lives in tribal District 5, which is represented by Bobby Oxendine and Jarrod Lowery.
Collins accused the council members of shunning the people when landowners were “attacked” by the state Legislature and the builders of the pipeline, which would carry natural gas from West Virginia to a point near Pembroke, who are using eminent domain to take land on which to build the pipeline.
“Any pipeline that comes on my land, I will retaliate,” Collins said.
The nine council members who voted in favor of the resolution sold out the people for the “almighty colonial dollar,” said Bobby Farley, of Magnolia. Their votes were gestures of disrespect to the people and to the land.
“We are the land,” he said.
JoAnn Lowery spoke of how she fought the 54-acre solar farm that was built next to her land in the New Hope Community. The tribal leaders should have continued to fight against the pipeline even after they were told it was inevitable, just as she was told by a county Board of Commissioners member that she should sign the papers allowing the solar panel farm to be built because it was inevitable.
“That farm is ugly,” Lowery said.
She also wouldn’t have accepted the payoff that came with the passage of the resolution, she said.
“I would not have taken $1 million,” Lowery said. “I would take a percentage of the money they make from the pipeline in perpetuity.”
Councilwoman Barbara Lowery said after the public comment period ended the vote taken wasn’t about being for or against the pipeline.
“They (the pipeline’s builders) never met with us, and that was the issue,” Lowery said. “… My vote was so they would communicate with us.”
Before the pipeline discussion and the resolution was rescinded, the tribe gave out $22,100 to elders groups and scholarship winners.
Chairman Godwin led a ceremony during which each of the tribe’s 16 elders groups received a check for $600.
The money is a “small token of appreciation” for all the elders do for the tribe and its people, Godwin said. The elders provide wisdom, and help protect and preserve the tribe’s history and culture, and the land.
The groups are self-sufficient, he said. They work hard to raise money to support their activities.
“The elders epitomize the true Lumbee way of life,” Godwin said.
Twenty-five young members of the Lumbee Tribe were each given a $500 scholarship during a presentation led by councilman Frank Cooper. Active, enrolled members of the tribe can apply for the scholarship money each year, Cooper said.
Receiving the scholarship money were from District 1, Haley Oxendine and Destiney Strickland; District 2, Jacob Freeman and Darien Herndon; District 3, Aleah Tilson, Kristen Butler and Amber Branch; District 4, Jarrett Strickland and Jessica Jones; District 5, Lenora Moore, Kinley Locklear and Elayna Locklear; District 6, Joshua Lowery and Kaitlyn Deal; District 7, Adrianna Oxendine, Anika Locklear and Kelsey Locklear; District 8, Jasmine Lewis; District 9, Hayley Jacobs and Haley Canady; District 11, Marisa McMillian; District 12, Tyler Sellers; and Not In The Territory, Jacob Harris, Seth Doughtry Bell and Lauren Romedy.
Dr. Robin Gary Cummings, chancellor of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, came before the Tribal Council on Thursday to speak about “our university.” He spoke of how a group of men came together to form a college because they feared their children would grow up without the chance at a higher education. As a result of their efforts, what would become UNCP was formed 131 years ago.
Today, the campus has 6,300 students, of whom 15 percent are American Indian, representing 30 tribes, he said.
“Out goal is to multiply that many, manyfold,” Cummings said.
The chancellor spoke of the many programs and events to which UNCP plays host that promote the American Indian culture, particularly Lumbee, including conferences and a powwow.
“And we resurrected ‘Strike at the Wind!’, with the help of your chairman,” Cummings said.
In addition to recruiting more American Indian students to the campus, he wants those students to be active on campus, he said. He wants them to live on the campus and take part in activities and be involved in a campus through which “flows the blood of the Native American people,” Cummings said.