Lumbee tribe members optimistic after US House passes federal recognition, but challenges remain

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PEMBROKE, N.C. (WNCN) — More than 55,000 members of the Lumbee tribe could be one step closer to federal recognition after a unanimous vote in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Our people have been praying for federal recognition,” said Lumbee Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin. “We’ve been doing this for generations.”

It’s a moment that Godwin says his ancestors started fighting for in 1888, and now he believes federal recognition of the Lumbee tribe could soon be a reality.

“It’s about a common decency to be treated as any other recognized in America,” said Godwin.

Not only would federal recognition give the Lumbee access to federal programs and loans denied in the past, but it would allow them to take control of their own infrastructure, schools, and possibly create a new reservation.

“If and when it does happen there’s going to be a process to that,” said Godwin.  “It won’t be just a few weeks it might take a couple of years.”

However, a number of hurdles remain in the way including protests from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians who question past allegiances between the Lumbee and other tribes.

“The passage of the so-called Lumbee Recognition Act by the House of Representatives sets a dangerous precedent that endangers the sovereignty and culture of all Native Nations,” said Principle Chief Richard Sneed of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

“These are Native Americans,” said Rep. GK Butterfield (D).  “The Lumbee Indians have been on our soil from the very beginning, and they deserve federal recognition.”

“It’s just a horrendous wrong, an injustice, and it denies their identity,” said Rep. Dan Bishop (R).

In addition to protests from the Cherokee there are questions about gaming could further complicate matters.

“It is an issue on which Lumbee are divided,” said Bishop.

While it’s unclear if the U.S. Senate will even take up the matter Godwin is asking for one thing.

“Do what’s right by the Lumbee people,” said Godwin.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misidentified the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians as Lumbee. We apologize for the error.

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