Lumbee scrap contract with gambling consultant to pursue recognition

Pembroke, North Carolina (AP) June 2010

A North Carolina tribe said it has ended its contract with a Nevada gambling consultant in the tribe’s effort to be officially recognized by Congress.

On Friday, the Lumbee tribe and officials from Lewin International terminated the contract that gave the Las Vegas company the authority to handle the tribe’s push for federal recognition, The Fayetteville Observer reported.

In the contract, the tribe had agreed to give Lewin a stake in future Lumbee economic ventures, including gambling. But the Lumbee have long said they don’t want the right to have gambling as part of their federal recognition.

That created friction both within and outside the tribe as the past 20 years has seen an increase in blocking newly recognized tribes from making money off gambling.

“We all know that perception is reality up there in Washington,” tribal chairman Purnell Swett said in the news release announcing that the deal was off. “Anything that could take away from our recognition work – whether real or imagined – has to be dealt with.”

Maryland-based attorney Arlinda Locklear had worked for 20 years to help the Lumbee get federal recognition until she was replaced by the Lewin contract earlier this year.

“It’s a relief,” Locklear said of the decision to cancel the contract. “I guess I had always considered the relationship with a gaming consultant to be very unfortunate and not helpful for our recognition bill.

“This should help restore the tribe’s integrity and credibility, because I think that’s what we lost by this association.”

After at least 12 congressional studies and countless bills over the past 120 years, the Lumbee are as close as they’ve ever been to winning the federal status that has eluded them since the 1880s, when North Carolina recognized the tribe.

The recognition bill has passed the House of Representatives and a key Senate committee, and for the first time ever the president, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and both North Carolina senators all support recognition. The bill would send at least $108 million a year in federal dollars to the tribe, mostly in health care funding, according to a Congressional Budget Office estimate.

Most of the tribe’s 55,000 members live in Robeson, Hoke, Scotland and Cumberland counties. The tribe is worth more than $50 million and has 80 permanent workers, most of them located in a complex in Pembroke that opened in December as the tribe’s headquarters.