ROBESON COUNTY, N.C. — The issue of federal recognition is one of the biggest questions Lumbee voters face as they pick their next leader.


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 


In John Lowery's view, the tribe's future depends on long-term, outside-the-box thinking. Lowery worked with the National Congress of American Indians and then the USDA's Office of Tribal Relations, a background he said gave him a view of what other tribes were doing. Lowery said he wants to use Lumbee tribal resources to promote members' agricultural products. He said this would mean more income for individual Lumbee and more funding for tribal government.

“We can help take what we're growing here and get it out into other markets. Not local, but like the Raleighs, the Atlantas, the Myrtle Beaches,” he said.

Current Chair Harvey Godwin is unable to seek another three-year term due to tribal term limits. As with all of his predecessors, his successor will have to deal with the issue of full federal recognition, a move that would give the tribe access to federal resources, such as the Indian Health Service.

Lowery said he would like to see the tribe work with all three branches of the federal government in its bid for full recognition. In addition to Congress, he said the tribe should look at its options through the courts and approach the Biden Administration about some sort of executive action.

Lumbee tribal chair candidate John Lowery, second from left, talks to voters in Robeson County. Lowery is a former staffer for the National Congress of American Indians and the USDA's Office of Tribal Relations.

Like Lowery, Theresa Locklear said the tribe needs to rethink its recognition strategy. If she is elected chair, Locklear said she would first approach other Native American tribes that have gained full federal recognition and compare notes with them about what worked. She would then concentrate on an intensive lobbying effort involving lawmakers from both major parties and Native Americans, including Lumbee, from throughout the United States.

Locklear, a Pembroke town council member, investigator and licensed clinical social worker, said many tribal members are frustrated with the tribe's current leadership. She said the tribe needs to invest more in its housing programs for tribal elders, and it needs to build a drug rehab center.

Theresa Locklear, right, talks to voters at a Robeson County event. Locklear is a licensed clinical social worker, an investigator for the public defender's office and a Pembroke town council member.

“I spend a lot of time out in the community talking to people and seeing how people live. And after seeing how people are living, I realized we need some change,” she said. 

In addition to Lowery and Locklear, Ron Oxendine and Corbin Eddings are running for the position. Spectrum News 1 profiled those candidates on Monday.

The tribal election is scheduled for Nov. 9.