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Critiquing the Lumbee recognition legislation

Jameson Taylor criticizes the process involved with granting federal recognition to Lumbee Indians.

You would think that with everything going on — a disputed election, a pandemic, rising unemployment claims and skyrocketing debt — Congress would have clear priorities once lawmakers returned to Washington, D.C. Think again. Instead of coming to the table to craft a targeted and responsible COVID relief package, they passed a special-interest bill that overrides federal policy regarding Indian Tribe recognition.

Called the “Lumbee Recognition Act,” the bill will cost taxpayers nearly $1 billion over the next four years as it extends federal benefits to a group that calls itself the Lumbee Indians. It passed on a voice vote, which means you can’t really see how your Congressman voted. At stake are hundreds of millions in federal aid and a significant degree of tribal sovereignty — including rights to potentially operate casinos on tribal land. …

… The Lumbee Recognition Act is just the kind of bill that gets passed when no one is watching. The act is not a new idea. Every other year or so, its supporters have tried to get it through. In 1956, Congress passed the Lumbee Act, recognizing the Lumbee as “Indians,” but not extending federal benefits to them. In 2010, with the Obama administration’s support, a Lumbee recognition bill also passed the U.S. House. It died in the Senate over concerns that the real issue was about being able to open a casino on Lumbee land. …

… The other thing to consider is that if Congress is allowed to evade the rulemaking process in this case of questionable ancestry, what is to prevent them from doing so in other cases? Recall that federal recognition also awards “Indian preference” in hiring and contracts. If we allow such preferences to be granted by political whim, it makes a mockery of the entire preference system, which is supposed to be rooted in a desire to rectify longstanding social injustices. Once this preference system becomes merely transactional, it loses all moral authority, akin to purchasing indulgences: very valuable, lucrative indulgences.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...