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Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina Recognition Act

Floor Speech

Date: Nov. 16, 2020
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BISHOP of North Carolina. Mr. Speaker, I thank the ranking member for yielding.

Since 1885, the State of North Carolina has recognized the Lumbee Indians of North Carolina, but today marks the first time in U.S. history since the Lumbee first sought Federal recognition in 1885 that legislation for full and bona fide recognition will pass the U.S. House while a companion bill awaits action in the U.S. Senate strongly favored by two North Carolina Senators and with the President of the United States having promised to sign the legislation that will result.

For 64 years, the 66,000-strong Lumbee have existed in a kind of official limbo that reflects the worst of our Federal Government.

In 1956, Congress passed a law simultaneously granting recognition of the Tribe and terminating it, according to the movement of that era. ``Nothing in this Act,'' said the legislation, ``shall make such Indians eligible for any services performed by the United States for Indians because of their status as Indians, and none of the statutes of the United States which affect Indians because of their status as Indians shall be applicable to the Lumbee Indians.''

One wonders if they had heard about equal protection.

For the opponents of Lumbee recognition, including other Tribes, it has always been about the money. Of course, there have been fellow travelers motivated by racial prejudice or neglect.

It cannot be disputed, though, that the Lumbee have been, for three centuries, a cohesive and distinct community of aboriginal origins and durable institutions, especially schools, living near the Lumber River, which was known until 1809 by the unfortunate but accurate name Drowning Creek.

Although the Lumbee have also been known by other names--the Croatan, the Cheraw of Robeson, the Siouan Indian Community of Lumber River-- they are the continuously present and vital people shown on a map drawn in 1725 whose common modern surnames appear on a document written in 1771, such as Locklear, Chavis, Dees, Sweat, and Groom. They are the Lumbee who were living in Long Swamp in the 1730s, the community now known as Prospect, where I visited just weeks ago.

My maternal forebears were Kinlaws in Bladen County, adjacent to Robeson. We also trace a genealogy to the early 1700s, and our family name evolved, like the Lumbee's did. We were once McKinlaws and, before that, McKinlochs, desperately poor but independent Scots-Irish from the borderlands of the English Civil Wars.

I can only imagine what it would mean to me to have been singled out by the United States Government for centuries of official disregard and denial of my very identity. That is the longstanding injustice that we are correcting today, and the happy ending is already being written by the Lumbee themselves.

I know the Lumbee. I know the Warrior's Ball and Lumbee Homecoming, UNC-Pembroke and Old Main, the Lumbee Cultural Center and even the Cozy Corner.

The Lumbee are supremely patriotic Americans, God-fearing and washed in the blood, devoted to the liberating cause of education and to civic involvement, proud of their community, loving and welcoming to strangers.

They are the best of America, and the only honorable course for the United States Congress is to accord them their due recognition at long last.

Mr. Speaker, I give my thanks to Representatives Butterfield, Hudson, and Grijalva, and to Ranking Member Rob Bishop, staunch supporters of the Lumbee's pursuit of justice, and also to President Trump. When I had the right moment to bring this to the President's attention, in characteristic practice, he made no promises other than to give it a close look. When he decided to throw his support behind recognition, he did it all the way, including traveling to Lumberton to tell the Lumbee himself.

Today is a gratifying capstone for my first partial term in the U.S. House.

Mr. Speaker, I urge Members to unanimously pass the Lumbee Recognition Act.

Mr. Speaker, this longstanding issue has been one that has been before many Congresses, so I appreciate Mr. Butterfield for his efforts and Mr. Bishop--both of them North Carolina Representatives--for bringing their State together and coming up with a cooperative way of doing it.

The issue with the Lumbees goes back to 1956, as has been mentioned, but also had, starting in 1988 and 1989 and finishing in the last administration, conflicting opinions from solicitors of the Interior Department that have caused this problem regarding the Lumbee Tribe on what they may or may not pursue as far as administrative recognition or other issues that are dealt with.

So the proper way when there are conflicting opinions, especially coming from the executive branch, is for Congress to stand up and do its responsibility and its duty, and that is what H.R. 1964--which was a wonderful year for me; I remember it very well--does is allow Congress to do its responsibility by taking these conflicting opinions and stating what is the purpose and intent of Congress. This is the right way of doing things.

Far too often have we tried to use administrative shortcuts when, in essence, we find out that it produces long-term problems for us. So I commend Representative Bishop from North Carolina, not only for a great name, but also for the fact that he is representing his constituency extremely well, and he is doing it in the proper way in bringing a piece of legislation to us through markup.

I appreciate, also, the letter that was mentioned by Mr. Huffman as well, because it is significant. One of the things the majority party still has to do is make sure there is a CBO score attached to this bill, perhaps, before it goes all the way through, but we have overlooked those in the past. We don't need to necessarily overlook them in the future going through there.

But I appreciate what the gentlemen are doing with this process. It is a positive thing, and I urge all of the Members who are here or who are not here to pass this one in the affirmative because it is something that needs to be done. I applaud those who have worked so hard to get unity within the delegation from North Carolina and move forward with it.

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