Distributive justice against Lumbee recognition
Posted: April 09, 2004 - 11:08am EST
by: Jerry Reynolds / Washington D.C. correspondent / Indian Country Today
WASHINGTON - By any standard of abstract justice, the Lumbee of North Carolina answered critics of their case for full federal recognition at a packed hearing of the Committee on Resources in the House of Representatives April 1. The occasion was H.R. 898, the Lumbee Recognition Act.
Not only did the Lumbee refute every argument brought against them on the merits, but they also had to argue their way into the hearing room. With space limited, the Eastern Cherokee delegation, principal opponents of full federal recognition for the Lumbee, hired people to hold them a place in line, according to an attorney for the Lumbee, Arlinda F. Locklear, and others present at the pre-hearing dispute. For a while it seemed that the very subjects of the hearing, Lumbee people, would not be allowed in the room because of overcrowding. But here at least, justice prevailed and the Capitol Police spent an hour enforcing it.
With that small struggle for distributive justice won, much larger ones loom for the Lumbee. From the testimony April 1, H.R. 898 will boil down to a simple question of distributive justice. As opposed to the body of reasoned argumentation that determines our view of what is just in the abstract, distributive justice asks how resources are most fairly distributed. The simple question of distributive justice in the Lumbee case is this - can Indian country afford the full federal recognition of 50,000 Lumbee, making it the third-largest tribe in the nation?
The Eastern Cherokee and their allies in North Carolina think not. They fear the Lumbee will install a casino along Interstate 95, the primary north-south artery of the eastern seaboard. An I-95 complex in Robeson County, N.C., home of the Lumbee, would be within easy reach of Fort Bragg, Raleigh-Durham, Chapel Hill, Pinehurst, Myrtle Beach, S.C., and South Carolina’s military installations. Even without the lure of a casino, 39,000 vehicles a day use I-95 in Robeson County. A casino there is apt to be a billion dollar operation annually, according to one expert. The Lumbee deny any plans for a casino, but no future federally recognized council would be bound by the deliberations of its predecessor councils; and so many consider a Lumbee casino a foregone conclusion if Congress confers recognition.
"This is a major concern in my state," said William J. Brooks Jr., president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council. "North Carolina remains one of 11 states in the nation without a state lottery, and our citizens and state lawmakers have traditionally resisted gambling at almost every opportunity. The only forms of gambling that are legal in North Carolina are bingo, limited video gambling with no cash payouts, and the Harrah’s Cherokee Casino in the mountains of western North Carolina, which offers only bingo and video-based machines."
"In fact, the Cherokee casino … is somewhat difficult to get to, not being on an interstate or other major highway. Nevertheless, this facility boasts about 3.3 million annual visits, making it the largest private tourist attraction in North Carolina."
The council is neutral on full Lumbee federal recognition, Brooks said. It favors a moratorium on gambling expansion in the United States, and Brooks testified to that effect at the hearing.
Eastern Cherokee Chairman Michell Hicks soft-pedaled any concern over a Lumbee threat to the tribe’s monopoly on North Carolina casino gambling. His concern was with the federal budget. H.R. 898 "could cost more than 682 million in taxpayer dollars over four years and further decrease the funds existing tribes and Indians receive."
United Southern and Eastern Tribes, a 24-tribe coalition, joined the Eastern Cherokee in opposition to H.R. 898. Tim Martin, USET executive director, cited a recent Congressional Budget Office study documenting the adverse budgetary impact a Lumbee-sized tribe would have on other tribes. Like most tribes east of the Mississippi River, the USET tribes tend to have small populations and a limited land base. Like small tribes and many other tribes and tribal organizations nationwide, the organization has already expressed concerns about cutbacks in the BIA direct-service budget.
Non-financial arguments against the Lumbee claim fell by the wayside under questioning from Lumbee allies on the committee, chiefly Reps. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., and Eni Faleomavaega, at-large member for American Samoa. (Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., a leading advocate of Lumbee recognition, testified in favor of H.R. 898, but as a senator in the House forum she could not pose questions.)
The Lumbee, recognized by the state of North Carolina in 1885, are already a federally recognized tribe, but the 1956 congressional legislation came without the financial and other entitlements enjoyed by other federally recognized tribes. The Lumbee have described themselves under other names than Lumbee, but they have done so only on the initiative of the Interior Department, according to Locklear.
To recognize the Lumbee now by an act of Congress would indeed constitute an exception to the BIA recognition process established in 1978. But how much of an exception can it be when only 16 tribes have ever been recognized by that process? Martin admitted under questioning that only six USET tribes have been through the federal recognition process. Also under questioning, Hicks acknowledged that the Eastern Cherokee were federally recognized by an act of Congress.
In any case, the Lumbee are considered worthy of exception due to unique circumstances - the 1956 legislation that recognized them also barred them from federal benefits, including the right to seek recognition under the 1978 process. Without any other way open to them, the Lumbee seek an act of Congress.
An alternative remedy would be to enact legislation enabling the Lumbee to seek federal recognition within the system dating from 1978. Charles Taylor, R-N.C., the committee chairman, said he will introduce such legislation, despite a companion hearing March 31 that found tribe after tribe complaining about the red tape, expense, longevity and arbitrariness of the recognition proceedings. The Lumbee themselves resist this remedy, contending they’ve proved their case again and again since 1888, when the tribe first petitioned for federal recognition.
Source: indiancountry.com online Native newspaper
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