H.R. 31: Lumbee Recognition Act

H.R. 31

Lumbee Recognition Act

Rep. Mike McIntyre

June 3, 2009 (111th Congress, 1st Session)

Staff Contact

Floor Situation

The House is scheduled to begin consideration of H.R. 31, the Lumbee Recognition Act, on Wednesday, June 3, 2009, under a closed rule, allowing no amendments and providing for one motion to recommit. H.R. 31 was introduced on January 6, 2009, by Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC) and referred to the Natural Resources Committee. On April 22, 2009, the bill was marked-up and reported, as amended, by voice vote.

Bill Summary

H.R. 31 would grant federal recognition to the Lubmees in North Carolina (N.C.) as a distinct Indian tribe. Under the legislation, all U.S. laws, regulations and benefits applicable to Indians shall apply to the Lumbee Tribe of N.C. and its members. In addition, the bill would allow other tribes in the Robeson, N.C., who are not enrolled in the Lumbee tribe to petition for federal recognition of tribal status.

The bill would make all members of the Lumbee tribe eligible for all services and benefits provided to members of Indian tribes. The bill would also recognize members of the tribe living on certain land in N.C. as residents of an Indian reservation. The bill would require the Secretaries of Interior and Health and Human Services to determine what the agencies will need to provide services to eligible tribe members.

The Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Health and Human Services would develop, in consultation with the Lumbee Tribe, a determination of needs and budget to provide the services for which Lumbee Tribe members are eligible. This is contingent upon the completion of a "tribal roll" that is verified by the Secretary of the Interior within two years of the enactment of this Act. Both Secretaries are required to submit to Congress a written report of the Lumbee Tribe's needs and budget after the tribal roll is verified.

The "tribal roll" is defined as a "list of people recognized by a tribe as members of that tribe." The tribal roll will define the population of the Lumbee Tribe for the purpose of the delivery of Federal services. Inclusion on the tribal roll is completely left to the tribe and only requires that tribe verification be complete within two years of enactment. The bill does not allow or require the Secretary of Interior to verify the Indian ancestry of any of the tribe's members before they receive federal Indian services.

The bill would authorize the Secretary of Interior to place land in trust for the Lumbee Tribe. In addition, the legislation prohibits the Lumbee Tribe from conducting gaming activities as a matter of claimed inherent authority or under the authority of any Federal law, including the Indian Gaming Regulation Act.

H.R. 31 stipulates that the State of North Carolina is responsible for exercising jurisdiction over all criminal offenses that are committed on and all civil actions that arise, on lands located within the State of North Carolina that are owned by, or held in trust by the United States for, the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, or any dependent Indian community of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina.

This legislation authorizes such appropriations as are necessary to carry out the bill and provide services to the new tribe.



The Lumbee Indians in North Carolina are a group of people that have been recognized as descendants of coastal North Carolina Indian tribes, principally Cheraw, and have been recognized as an Indian tribe since 1885 by the State of North Carolina. The group has unsuccessfully sought the special benefits of federal recognition as a tribe through the standard Bureau of Indian Affairs' (BIA) for over a century. The Lumbee first attempted to gain Federal recognition in 1888 when it submitted a petition to Congress. This petition was denied in 1890 and numerous attempts have been made for recognition since then. There are currently 55,000 Lumbee Indians enrolled in the Lumbee Tribe, which would make them among the largest tribes in the nation along with the Navajo, Cherokee, Choctaw, Sioux, and Chippewa if they were given federal recognition.

Much of the debate concerning Lumbee recognition stems from a law known as the Act of June 7, 1956. The 1956 Act designates certain Indians as "Lumbee Indians of North Carolina" and grants Lumbees all rights as citizens of the State of North Carolina and the United States. The act also makes Lumbee specifically ineligible for services available to recognized tribes and makes Indian statutes inapplicable to them.

According to the Interior Department, the 1956 Act effectively denies the Lumbee from eligibility to petition for recognition under the Federal Acknowledgment Process. This process, administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was developed in 1978 to deal with the growing number of Indian groups seeking federal recognition. The Federal Acknowledgment Process requires a petitioner to meet seven mandatory criteria. Since 1978, 16 tribes have been recognized and 24 tribes denied through the Federal Acknowledgment Process.

On December 17, 1987, the Lumbee Tribe submitted to the Department of the Interior (DOI) a petition for Federal acknowledgement, which consisted of a two volume report, one and a half file boxes of documentary evidence, and a 16 volume tribal roll. However, DOI informed the Lumbee Tribe that it was ineligible to participate in the Federal Acknowledgement Process due to the fact that Congress had terminated its relationship with the Tribe and only Congress could restore the relationship. The underlying bill would circumvent the standard process to give Lumbees access to federal benefits afforded other tribes.

Unlike other federally recognized Indian tribes, the Lumbee do not require any common ancestry to join the tribe, and the legislation does not require anyone to verify that members enrolled to the Lumbee Tribe are descendants of Cheraw or other coastal North Carolina tribes.  Therefore the number of Lumbees continually swells from new members being added to the rolls whenever the tribe sees fit.  In fact, the bill actually limits the Secretary of Interior to "confirming compliance with the membership criteria set out in the Tribe's constitution adopted on November 16, 2001, which verification shall be completed within 2 years after the date of the enactment of this section."  This provision would specifically prohibit the Secretary from ensuring that any new Lumbee tribe members are actually descendents of North Carolina's historic Indian tribes. This could lead to the tribe dramatically increasing the number of people eligible for new federal benefits, whether they are actually ancestors of Native North Carolinian tribes or not. 

In his dissenting views, included in House Report 111-103, Natural Resources Ranking Member Doc Hastings (R-WA) states that, "According to a recent news article that was submitted for the hearing record, some Lumbees want to open the rolls and increase the membership of the tribe even more, but the tribe is holding off doing so until Congress passes H.R. 31."  Indeed, each time legislation granting federal recognition has been scored by CBO in the past four years, the number of Lumbee Tribe members-and the cost of providing federal services to them-has increased dramatically:

  • H.R. 31 (111th)-CBO determined that the tribe had 54,000 members and services for them would costs $786 million over five years.
  • H.R. 65 (110th, Senate reported version with no amendments)-CBO determined that the tribe had 54,000 members and services for them would costs $786 million over 5 years.
  • H.R. 65 (110th, House reported version)-CBO determined that the tribe had 39,000 members and services for them would cost $480 million over five years.
  • S. 420 (108th)-CBO determined that the tribe had 34,000 members and services for them would cost $430 million over five years.

With nothing in the legislation to allow the Secretary of Interior to verify the ancestry and new tribe members, the tribe roll will likely expand as it has over the past five years, and with it the cost of H.R. 31.

Concerns have also been raised that this bill does not address the recent Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar, in which the court ruled the Department of Interior (DOI) had improperly taken 31 acres of land into trust in Rhode Island for the Narragansett Indian Tribe.  The Supreme Court ruled that the DOI did not have the authority to take the land into trust because the tribe was not given federal recognition until after the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act.  Some Members have expressed concerns that H.R. 31 legislation would set a precedent for resolving issues under this decision through a congressional process.  The dissenting views state, "If the solution to Carcieri is to deal with each and every post-1934 tribe's trust land application separately in Congress, then H.R. 31 is appropriate.  If the solution is to provide the Secretary of Interior with appropriate authority to acquire lands in trust, then H.R. 31 is not appropriate."

Some Members may be concerned that H.R. 31 would congressionally grant federal recognition and benefits to the Lumbee Indian tribe, though current law prohibits the tribe from access to federal services.  Some Members may also be concerned that the legislation does not require members of the tribe to verify their Indian ancestry, thus the costs of the services provided to the tribe could rapidly increase to pay for benefits to individuals with unverified Indian heritage.  As Ranking Member Hastings states, "Verification of Indian ancestry is justified for the simple reason that it is a tenet of Indian law.  A number of laws enacted over many years provide clear requirements that Indian people must be members of Indian tribes.  H.R. 31 should be no different."

In addition, some Members may be concerned that the CBO estimate for the cost of the legislation is based on the current estimated size of the tribe.  If the size of the tribe continues to grow as it has in recent years, the cost of the legislation could increase far above CBO's current estimate, as it has done every time CBO has scored the legislation.



According to CBO, H.R. 31 would cost $786 million over five years for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service to provide federal benefits to Lumbee Indians who are not currently recognized as eligible Indian services recipients.