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Lumbee Factions Still Fighting Over Government Forming Process

LUMBERTON, NC -- Some Lumbees say the Lumbee Regional Development Association (LRDA) is trying to delay an election that would create a unified tribal government by distributing a letter detailing election concerns. LRDA chairman Lloyd Freeman says that isn't true.

The Lumbee Self-Determination Commission, which was formed by order of Superior Court Judge Howard Manning last year, has set a Nov. 7 target date for the election.

The letter in question, dated July 6, was written by one of the association's lawyers, Coy E. Brewer Jr., after LRDA asked its lawyers to review recent proceedings of the Self-Determination Commission. The letter was provided to all members of the commission and to local news media.

The letter expresses concerns about a survey the commission is conducting, the type of government that will be elected, and the power it will have. It questions the wisdom of having an election while an appeal by the Lumbee Tribe of Cheraw Indians (LTCI) challenging Manning's order is pending.

The Lumbee Tribe of Cheraw Indians and LRDA have been clashing for years over who should govern the 40,000 Lumbee Indians living in Robeson, Hoke, Cumberland and Scotland Counties.

Manning ordered that a commission be formed to determine if the people want a government, the type of government they want, and to schedule an election to select the government. The commission includes members of LRDA, LTCI and other Lumbee groups.

LTCI Chairman Jerry McNeill, a Self-Determination Commission member, charges the letter is premature and simply a way to try to delay the election.

In a letter released Friday (July 14), the LTCI's lawyer, Arlinda Locklear, also accused LRDA of delay tactics. Jim Lowry, Self-Determination Commission chairman, said many people have called him to make that accusation.

"The concerns are valid," McNeill said. "But the commission is going to deal with those concerns. I think it's premature to give that to the press. LRDA is trying to delay the election. The judge sent a letter saying that if we have an election by Nov. 7, he will hold up all (federal and state) funds. If they can delay it past Nov. 7, they can get the funds for another year."

Manning ruled that the LRDA could control the tribe's money as an interim government until a permanent one is established.

Leroy Freeman, LRDA chairman, said there is no attempt to stop or delay the election.

"We're committed to an election in November," Freeman said. "The date of the election has been set and that's going forward. The intent of the letter was only to raise the issue and to put safeguards in to guard against a dictatorship."

Freeman said LRDA sought to alert Lumbees to the potential problems and to ensure that the problems are taken care of before the election.

"Jerry McNeill's problem is that he and some members of the Tribal Council (LTCI) are always trying to put a bad taste in people's mouths about LRDA," Freeman said. "They just can't let up from blaming the LRDA for everything.

"We must do everything we can to make sure this election is held in November," he said. "I promise you that if LRDA tries to stop this election or postpone it, I will be the first one to let the tribal members know what is going on and fight it with all my might."

Lowry agrees that the concerns are valid and says they definitely will be addressed.

"One thing they're right about is that we're moving into a critical stage," he said. "But we have the North Carolina Institute of Government as our resource and as a guide. We have UNC, N.C. State and UNC-Pembroke as resources. We've gone through an elaborate, long-term process and I believe we are in a good legal position to withstand the test.

"Several people called me, saying they believe the letter is a delay tactic to slow the process because LRDA is the interim government," Lowry said. "I hope that's not the case. On the other hand, you've still got that appeal. That could cause a delay, too."

McNeill said the LTCI plans to drop the appeal as soon as it is satisfied the election will be held. But, he said, the council still has to decide when that will be.

"The Tribal Council (LTCI) doesn't want a drawn-out appeals process," he said. "We just want an election. That appeal is our only assurance that we will have an election."

But Locklear, the LTCI's lawyer, said in her letter to McNeill that the LTCI could drop the appeal if the election is held and certified. She said the appeal won't affect the election.

The LRDA lawyers' letter expresses concern about establishing a government without a constitution.

Lowry said, the commission cannot set up a constitution because "It's not on our plate."

"The judge purposely wanted us out of the constitution process. The first government elected could be called the constitutional government. The government can operate without a constitution. It could be on the ballot where the people vote their preference on a constitution," Lowery said.

He doesn't foresee the possibility of an all-powerful, dictatorial form of government.

"The government doesn't have any authority if the people don't give it in a constitution," he said. "It would have no power to do anything except to say, 'I represent.' It could be a figurehead government with no real power."

Manning stipulated in his order that at least 30 percent of the adult enrolled members of the Lumbee people must vote for the election to be certified.

In a May 31 letter to Lowry, Manning said he was trying to "mirror" what he understood the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs requires for tribal elections. He said that he has since learned the bureau requires 30 percent of registered tribal members, a much less-stringent requirement than his 30 percent requirement of all Lumbees. He offered to drop the requirement if the LTCI drops its appeal.

Freeman said the Lumbee people are tired of seeing LRDA and LTCI fight for control of the tribe and the money that goes with it.

"The people are sick of both groups," he said. "They want a new government and want both groups to shut up. The LRDA and the Tribal Council (LTCI) aren't suffering. They go home to air-conditioned houses and it isn't raining in their houses. We need to move ahead so we can take care of the needs of the elderly, disabled and sick."

Lowry, who lives in High Point, NC, indicated that he too is tired of the fight.

"I live on the outside, so I'm not caught up in that stuff," he said. "I just try to do it as objectively as possible."

(From The Robesonian and other sources)