Tribe member concerned over sovereignty as Lumbee Recognition Act moves forward

State - Regional

PEMBROKE, N.C. (WBTW)– Full federal recognition for North Carolina’s largest Indian tribe has been up for debate for more than a century, but some members have concerns over tribal autonomy if the Lumbee Recognition Act recently passed by the U.S. House is signed into law.

“We definitely want federal recognition, but we would want to challenge and encourage other tribes across the nation to challenge the current relationship that we all have with the US government,” Aminah Ghaffar, a community activist and board member of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Coalition of North Carolina said.

Ghaffar, an enrolled member of the Lumbee, said her concerns stem from the issue of tribal sovereignty.

“We have this inherent right to operate as our own nations and to operate with full autonomy within our own governments,” Ghaffar said. “That’s something that is our right as the original occupants of this land.”

Bills to get full federal recognition for the Lumbee have made it to congress several times but have failed for one reason or another.

“We actually have some federal tribes that thwart recognition or lobby against us getting recognition and, in my opinion, it is a resource issue,” Ghaffar said. “Not wanting to share allocated resources with us because we are a very large tribe.”

Ghaffar said there are plenty of benefits that come with recognition, like access to more funding. She said she is concerned that it may also limit the tribe’s ability to make decisions for itself. She wants to see tribes across the country strive for more independence.

“Federal recognition has become the gold standard for indigenous identity and I’m not saying that is the right thing,” Ghaffar said. “I think that we are indigenous regardless of whether we have that federal recognition or that head nod from the US government.”

Ghaffar called the fight for recognition a divisive issue and expressed her gratitude for congressman G.K. Butterfield, who sponsored the bill.

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