This week we read David E. Wilkins Breaking into the Intergovernmental Matrix: The Lumbee tribes efforts to secure federal acknowledgement. In this article Wilkins discusses the concept of being politically recognized by the federal and state government. This recognition is in direct relation to American Indian tribes. Wilkins explains the difference between being recognized by the executive branch and Congress. The article ultimately seeks to understand the reasoning behind the Lumbee tribe seeking federal recognition.
Wilkins discusses the process a tribe must go through to receive federal recognition. Recognition can be achieved through two different processes. A tribe can take the administrative route (BIA) or they can receive recognition through congressional legislation. If trying to receive recognition through the BIA a tribe must meet 7 required criteria. One of these criteria states that a tribe must not be terminated. Since the Lumbee tribe was recognized and terminated in the same year they could not receive recognition through this particular process. Because of this the Lumbee tribe is currently seeking federal recognition through Congress.
Wilkins talks about the history of the recognition process and how it changed a great deal after 1870. Before then the recognition process was used as a means to acknowledge the existence of certain tribes. But after 1870 the idea of sovereignty was incorporated and tribes became eligible for certain benefits such as healthcare and education. Through these new benefits a tribe could also be eligible to house gaming in their community or reservation. There would have to be a consensus between the tribe and state in regards to the gaming. Ultimately gaming could bring revenue into the tribe. Regardless of the benefits or terms of recognition, tribes would always fall under the federal government because they would be seen as wards of the government.
The Lumbee people have strived to seek federal recognition to receive healthcare and educational benefits. Wilkins also addresses another issue he believes the Lumbee people are after in regards to recognition. He believes that the Lumbee people seek recognition to find some validation as real Indians from a historic Indian group. The Lumbee people already believe that they are an Indian community guided by kinship. So in reality I do not wholly agree with Wilkins’ argument because outsiders are the only ones who actually question the Lumbees identity as an Indian tribe.
Wilkins also addresses why the Lumbees have been unable to receive federal recognition and government aid. He talks about the three eras that the Lumbee people have attempted recognition: the 1880’s to 1924, the 1950s, and 1980s. The first two eras was a time in which the government was trying to assimilate Indians into mainstream society by detribalizing them. In 1956 the government send anthropologist Carl Seltzer to the study the people of Robeson County. Through these studies of phenotypical characteristics he determined that there were only 22 ‘Indians’ residing there. This process was greatly flawed. Another problem is in the funding of recognition for the tribe. Where will the government get the money? This has caused worry with other federally recognized tribes because if the Lumbee receive benefits the recognition money will be split between 55,000 additional Indians.
For many years the federal recognition process has been one of mystery and confusion for a great deal of people. Wilkins provides us with a thorough explanation of the process and historical background involving the Lumbee tribe of North Carolina. Today the Lumbee continue their fight for recognition although a few things have changed. Being federally recognized does not make any tribe more or less Indian than they already are. It basically serves as a political relationship with the federal government that will entitle us to certain benefits. I believe that we should be entitled to these benefits regardless but the ultimate problem is where will the federal government get the money to aid 55,000 members of one tribe?