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What does the term "federally recognized" mean?


Only tribes who maintain a legal relationship with the U.S. government through binding treaties, acts of Congress, executive orders, etc., are officially "recognized" by the federal government. Once "recognized" a tribe has a legal relationship with the United States. There are currently more than 440 federally recognized tribes in the United States, including some 200 village groups in Alaska. No treaty exists between the Lumbee and the United States. Typically, treaties were entered into when a tribe posed a threat to the United States, or when a tribe possessed minerals and gold desired by the United States. Because Lumbee lived at peace with its non-Indian neighbors and did not possess any valuable minerals or gold, the United States had little reason to treaty with the Lumbee. However, the United States Congress did enact a law in 1956 which recognized the Lumbee, while withholding all privileges and benefits normally associated with recognition.


What does "tribal sovereignty" mean and why is it important to American Indians?


Tribal sovereignty describes the right of federally recognized tribes to govern themselves and the existence of a government-to-government relationship with the United States. Thus, a tribe is not a ward of the government, but an independent nation with the right to form its own government, adjudicate legal cases within its borders, levy taxes within its borders, establish its membership, and decide its own future fate. The federal government has a trust responsibility to protect tribal lands, assets, resources, and treaty rights. For purposes of Lumbee, however, the State of North Carolina will continue civil and criminal jurisdiction over Lumbee. And, while the Tribe is governed by a Tribal constitution, the Lumbee constitution court may only hear internal matters that arise from interpretation of the Lumbee Tribal Constitution.


Do Indians pay taxes?


All Indians are subject to federal income taxes. As sovereign entities, tribal governments have the power to levy taxes on reservation lands. Some tribes do and some do not. As a result, Indians and non-Indians may or may not pay sales taxes on goods and services purchased on the reservation, depending on the Tribe. However, whenever a member of an Indian tribe conducts business off the reservation, that person, like everyone else, pays both state and local taxes. State income tax is not paid on reservation or trust land. For purposes of Lumbee, Robeson County is deemed the equivalent of a "reservation" solely for the purpose of qualifying Lumbee people for Indian Health Services. Robesonians will continue to own and dispose of their land in the same manner as they presently own and dispose of land, including the payment of all property taxes.


Do American Indians receive any special rights or benefits from the U.S. Government?


Contrary to popular belief, Indians do not receive payments from the federal government simply because they have Indian blood. Funds distributed to a person of Indian descent may represent mineral lease income on property that is held in trust by the United States or compensation for lands taken in connection with governmental projects. Some Indian tribes receive benefits from the federal government in fulfillment of treaty obligations or for the extraction of tribal natural resources - a percentage of which may be distributed as per capita among the tribe's membership. For purposes of Lumbee, the Lumbee will be eligible for certain federal programs (e.g. Indian health care, BIA scholarships) that they do not qualify for now because of the lack of federal recognition.


Can a group be recognized as "Indian" if they have lost their language?


Absolutely. In fact, there are a number of tribes who have sustained language loss, and there are even greater numbers of Indian people who no longer speak their native language.


Why are the Lumbee circumventing the administrative process of the Bureau of Indian affairs and seeking full deferral acknowledgement directly from Congress?


The Lumbee Act of 1956 recognizes the Lumbee as Indian, but does not grant to them the services that other tribes receive because of their status as Indian. Among the BIA criteria, however, is that the petitioning group cannot be "subject to congressional legislation terminating or forbidding the Federal relationship". Because the 1956 Act, in effect, forbids the federal relationship, it precludes the Lumbee Tribe from utilizing the BIA administrative process to obtain federal recognition. To correct this problem, however, government officials have proposed to allow the Lumbee to participate in a dual process. That is, pass a congressional amendment to the language in the 1956 Act that would allow the Tribe to still participate in the BIA administrative process. However, if passed, this dual process would be contrary to the treatment of other similarly situated tribes. For example, the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo of Texas and the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona were subject to very similar legislation to the 1956 Act. Yet, they were accorded full federal recognition by special congressional legislation without having to participate in the BIA administrative process. If the Lumbee are required to go through the congressional legislative process and the BIA administrative process, it will be the only tribe in history singled out in this way. Therefore, to be consistent and fair, the Lumbee must be granted the full benefits of federal recognition through special congressional legislation.


Is the Lumbee Tribe pursuing federal recognition for the sole purpose of gaming?


The Lumbee Tribe has been pursuing federal recognition since 1888. In that petition, the Lumbee requested educational assistance from the federal government but was denied. Since that time, the Lumbee have petitioned the federal government several times regarding issues of education and federal recognition. From 1910 to 1924, at least five separate bills were introduced in Congress seeking federal recognition of the Tribe. The Tribe attempted recognition again in 1932 and 1933 when similar bills were submitted to Congress for consideration. It is clear from the history of the Lumbee Tribe and their relations with Congress that they seek the simple acknowledgement of their tribal existence, and the right to self-governance to protect and preserve the Lumbee way of life.


In addition, the Lumbee Constitution required that any ordinance passed by the Tribal Council authorizing gaming must be certified for referendum by the membership of the Lumbee Tribe. Therefore, the Lumbee Tribal Council itself cannot impose gaming. The history of the Lumbee pursuit of federal recognition, as well as the language in their Constitution, clearly suggests that gaming is the least of all motives for the Tribe's pursuit of federal recognition.


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