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Lumbee Survey Favors Governing Changes

PEMBROKE, NC -- An ‘‘overwhelming majority’’ of Lumbee Indians surveyed want a representative form of government with districts, preliminary results show. Armed with the news Saturday, tribal leaders said they are on a fast-track to hold an election Nov. 7 that forms the tribe’s new government.

Much has to be worked out in the next two months. Members of the Lumbee Self-Determination Commission have to decide who is eligible to run, the terms of office and the boundaries of the districts, among other issues. The commission next meets Aug. 12.

Leaders hope the election will end an ongoing power struggle between two groups that want to govern more than 40,000 Lumbees and control millions of federal and state aid. The groups are the Lumbee Tribal Council and the Lumbee Regional Development Association. Most of the tribal members live in and near Robeson County.

The main sticking point yet to be settled is what powers the new government will have. Leaders said a constitution is needed to protect the people’s rights.

‘‘Without that, I might as well go home, because I’m not going to favor an election,’’ said Anthony Blanks, a member of the Tribal Council who was appointed to serve on the commission.

Jim Lowry, chairman of the Lumbee Self-Determination Commission, proposed a solution Saturday. He wants the commission to consider putting on the Nov. 7 ballot a referendum that requires the new government to write a constitution by a certain deadline; tribal members would then vote on the constitution.

The commission by court order cannot write the constitution or tell the new government what to do, Lowry said.

‘‘Without question, (the voters) would want to pass a referendum, which would put more accountability on the elected representatives,’’ Lowry said.

The Tribal Council and the LRDA have clashed for years over governing the Lumbees. In January 1999, Superior Court Judge Howard E. Manning Jr. of Raleigh ruled against the Tribal Council as the rightful government, but he also ruled that the LRDA has limited power. The Tribal Council is appealing that decision.

In April 1999, Manning created the Lumbee Self-Determination Commission. He gave it three tasks: to determine whether the tribe wants a government, and if so, what kind. Then hold an election.

Don Gersh, director of university relations at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, told commission members Saturday that of the 300 tribal members who have responded so far in the scientific poll, ‘‘an overwhelming majority’’ want a new government that is representative and has districts. This mirrors what people said in hearings throughout the region earlier this year.

The poll’s figures have yet to be tallied, but final results are expected to be complete by the end of July.

Jerry McNeill said his Tribal Council ‘‘would drop (the appeal) in a second if they could make sure that the wishes of the people are followed.’’ He said a set of guidelines, much like the tribe’s constitution that passed in 1994, is needed. Voters passed that constitution 8,040-223. Manning later ruled that the 1994 constitution was invalid because of mistakes made in the process to create it.

Manning’s 1999 order requires that at least 30 percent voter turnout among the tribe members, a figure many leaders say is unfairly too high. Manning has said he would eliminate that requirement if the Tribal Council dropped its appeal.

In June, the Tribal Council delayed a decision on whether to drop its appeal. The Tribal Council next meets Aug. 7.

Leroy Freeman, the LRDA chairman and a commission member, said he supports the direction the commission is headed. He said the courts need to give the commission power to ensure that bylaws are set up along with the new government. He also wants to see a smooth transition of power between his association, which now disburses the federal and state aid, and the new government.

The commission admitted it has a large task of contacting as many enrolled members as possible before holding the election. They won’t have to pay for the election, though.

Lowry announced Saturday (July 8) that state Rep. Ron Sutton was successful in getting a bill passed that sets aside $100,000 to pay for the election.

(From the Fayetteville Observer-Times)