UPDATE (Oct. 21, 2021): The Lumbee Supreme Court has disqualified Ron Oxendine from the race for tribal chair, according to a statement from the candidate Wednesday night. The court ruled Oxendine would not have lived in the Lumbee Tribe's territory for one year when the chair's term begins in January and had not sufficiently demonstrated an intent to remain in the territory. Spectrum News 1 is working to confirm additional details.


ROBESON COUNTY, N.C. – If you ask each of the candidates in this race their top issues, virtually all point to elder care and drug abuse. 


What You Need to Know

  • Four candidates are running for chair of the Lumbee Tribe, the largest Native American tribe east of the Mississippi River 
  • The election comes a year after both major presidential nominees endorsed full federal recognition for the tribe 
  • The tribe's current chair is term-limited 


For Oxendine, the election represents a sort of homecoming. After decades away from the Lumbee Tribe's four-county territory, Oxendine moved back to Robeson County last year to care for his mother-in-law. Early this year, he launched a bid to become the tribe's next chair.

“It's all about helping and giving back,” he said. “Now, it's time for me to work in improving quality of life for a lot of the Lumbee Tribe.”

The Lumbee Tribe's constitution limits the chair to two consecutive three-year terms. This means current chair Harvey Godwin, first elected in 2015, is unable to seek another term. In addition to signing or vetoing and implementing policies approved by the tribal council, the chair is responsible for representing the tribe before state and federal agencies and tribunals.

This last responsibility looms large over the election. Last year, in an effort to win over Lumbee voters, both Donald Trump and Joe Biden endorsed the idea of full federal recognition for the tribe. Legislation was introduced in Congress to make it happen, but the bill never went anywhere.

Oxendine said the tribe needs to think beyond North Carolina if it ever wants to receive full federal recognition. He said he would engage tribal members living outside of the state and lawmakers from other states to put greater pressure on Congress to get it done.

Ron Oxendine, center, talks to a voter in Pembroke. Oxendine wants the Lumbee Tribe to provide greater financial assistance for young tribal members considering college.

Beyond the recognition issue, Oxendine said the most pressing issues for him are elder care and opioid abuse. The Lumbee Tribe operates its own public housing system, and he wants to see greater investment in it. As for the opioid problem, Oxendine said he sees it as a reaction to lack of economic opportunity. He said the best way to counter this is to encourage young Lumbee to enroll at UNC-Pembroke or Robeson Community College via housing and tuition assistance.

For Corbin Eddings, the decision to run for tribal chair marks a complete turnaround from a few years ago. Frustrated by the tribe's government, Eddings said he picked up a form to cancel his tribal membership.

“I filled the form out, put it up in the sun visor, and I just could not bring myself to turn it in,” he said. “One day I was riding and I saw a campaign sign. And when I saw that sign, it hit me that my solution was not to get out of tribal government, it was to get in.”

The only sitting tribal council member in the race, Eddings said the tribe needs to rethink the way it delivers services to its members. He said federal housing money can be used to fund opioid treatment and prevention programs, uses that could reach all members of the tribe regardless of income. He's also interested in economic development funding.

Corbin Eddings talks to a voter in Pembroke. Eddings wants to use HUD funding to pay for opioid treatment programs.

On the federal recognition front, Eddings said the tribe has relied to date on volunteer lobbying efforts in Washington. He said that strategy has likely gone as far as it can go. Any future lobbying for full federal recognition will have to be funded directly by the tribe. Eddings said he wants to work with members of both parties to get recognition legislation across the finish line.

In addition to Oxendine and Eddings, John Lowery and Theresa Locklear are vying for the tribe's top job. Spectrum News 1 will profile those candidates on Tuesday.

The tribal election is scheduled for Nov. 9.