A North Carolina Indian Tribe was outraged by an act in the US House of Representatives which passed a bill this week for the federal recognition of another tribe. After the Lumbee Recognition Act, the tribe which is seeking to gain federal recognition for more than a century has never been so close to achieving it.
Injustice to All Federally Recognized Tribes
The House passing the act caused a swift reaction from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, who, along with all the other tribes had to undergo the difficult process of origin investigation before being federally recognized. The Cherokee principal chief Richard Sneed vented his frustration from the injustice in a statement.
“The use of congressional authority to ignore and avoid investigation of such serious questions about the Lumbees’ authenticity is an outrageous injustice to all federally recognized Tribes. History and facts must guide the process, not politics.”Richard Sneed, Principal Chief, The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
Besides all the life-changing aspects involved with the federal recognition, including federal aid for housing, health care and education, recognizing a tribe unlocks the power of casino gambling on tribal lands. And the two legal casinos in North Carolina are operated by the Cherokee who feel upcoming competition from the Lumbee, in case the US Senate approves the bill.
First Catawba and Now the Lumbee
The Cherokee already feel aggrieved by the way South Carolina-based Catawba Indian Nation crossed the state line to break ground for a new casino resort in Cleveland County, circumventing the normal process via legislation brought forward by politicians whom a Catawba business partner donated hundreds of thousands.
The Cherokee filed a lawsuit to prevent the development, but now another tribe is taking the same political route, instead of going through the difficult federal process and legal battles the Cherokee had gone through, and is threatening the existence of the tribe.
In 1988 Congress passed the Indian Gambling Regulatory Act (IGRA) and unlocked new potential for tribes across the country, but the Cherokee had a hard passage before having their casino. North Carolina, a state notoriously resistant to gambling, had rejected their attempts for years, and when Gov. Jim Hunt refused to sign a compact with the tribe in 1990, the issue switched to state and federal courts.
Cherokee Economy under Threat
In 1997, the Cherokee opened its first casino on the reservation land in-between Jackson and Swain counties, and consequently managed to grow the video poker operations into a sprawling resort with hotels, a bowling alley, entertainment venues and restaurants.
Harrah’s Cherokee Resort Casino, which generated $400 million and had 4 million visitors last year, was the source of funding which allowed the tribe to open a second one, the Cherokee Valley River Casino in Murphy in 2015, a gaming destination which attracts 1.4 million visitors per year.
Tribal gaming massively improved the state of well-being for the Cherokee members: from the up to $14,000 per capita casino proceeds for each adult member, to the $124 million pre-K through 12th grade school opened in 2009, and the $80 million medical facility opened in 2015 and paired with a $16 million residential treatment center, the tribe was booming. But political acts threaten to spoil the party and the Cherokee are not ready to surrender.
“We call on the Senate to reject this legislation and allow the Lumbee claims to be examined through the Office of Federal Acknowledgement in the Department of the Interior.”Richard Sneed, Principal Chief, The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians