Dr. Arlinda Locklear

On Wednesday, April 28, I had the opportunity to hear Arlinda Locklear speak at the Alumni Center at UNC-CH.  Locklear, a Lumbee Indian and the first Native American woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court, addressed the issue of Lumbee recognition. I did not attend this lecture as a member of the press and thus will not quote Locklear in this entry or reference her presentation.  However, I would like to address the issue of Lumbee recognition as it is a pressing issue here in North Carolina.

The Lumbee Tribe is located in Robeson County, North Carolina.  Since 1885 the tribe has been recognized as an Indian tribe by the state of North Carolina.  However, the government of the United States has repeatedly denied federal recognition to the Lumbee.

Why is federal recognition so important?  There are a number of reasons, including

  • the establishment of a government-to-government relationship between a tribal government and the federal government
  • the extension of federal funds to the tribe, and
  • potentially the ability to take land into trust and create a reservation for that tribe (though Indian scholars out there will note that this is currently under fire, an issue for a later blog).

The Lumbee first requested federal help in 1888, in order to fund their separate school system, which had been established but not fully funded by North Carolina.  Over the decades, the tribe repeatedly requested that the federal government recognize the tribe, only to be rebuffed time and time again.

Finally, in 1956, the tribe thought it had gained recognition with the passage of the 1956 Lumbee Act, which can be read here.  However, language attached to the bill withheld the tribe access to federal services.

Since 1956 the tribe has fought in a variety of ways to achieve recognition.

One way is through the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  To achieve federal recognition through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a tribe must prove seven criteria, as stated in a BIA report:

1) The petitioner has been identified as an American Indian entity on a substantially continuous basis since 1900,

2) A predominant portion of the petitioning group comprises a distinct community and has existed as a community from historical times until the present,

3) The petitioner has maintained political influence or authority over its members as an autonomous entity from historical times until the present,

4) A copy of the group’s present governing document including its membership criteria. In the absence of a written document, the petitioner must provide a statement describing in full its membership criteria and current governing procedures,

5) The petitioner’s membership consists of individuals who descend from a historical Indian tribe or from historian Indian tribes which combined and functioned as a single autonomous political entity,

6) The membership of the petitioning group is composed principally of persons who are not members of any acknowledged North American Indian tribe,

7) Neither the petitioner nor its members are the subject of congressional legislation that has expressly terminated or forbidden the Federal relationship.

In an opinion issued to the tribe, the Bureau stated that the tribe would not be recognized through this process.

However, a bill is now before Congress that may have the best chance in recent memory of success to bring the Lumbee’s full federal recognition. The bill can be read here.

As the bill moves forward the Lumbee continue to call upon other Native American tribes and citizens of North Carolina to support their cause.

– Chandos Culleen