Native American interns raise DC’s awareness of tribal issues

By Stephanie Haven, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Chelsea Barnes, 20, is a Native American working on Capitol Hill this summer for a government that doesn’t recognize her heritage.

Barnes’ boss, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., was among those who voted against her tribe’s federal recognition. Ten years after the bill failed, Cole, a member of the federally recognized Chickasaw Nation, came face-to-face with his decision.

A member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, Barnes began her summer job in Cole’s office on June 3 as part of the 2014 Native American Congressional Internship. Run by the Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation, the 10-week program is designed to teach indigenous students about the federal government.

“I just see it as an opportunity to represent my tribe in the office,” said Barnes, a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Sometimes you don’t have to say anything. Just being there helps.”

Cole is one of seven members of Congress with interns from Barnes’ program this summer.

Chelsea Barnes, 20, a member of the Lumbee Tribe and a senior at the University of North Carolina, studies Political Science and Communications and is interning with Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma. Cole is a member of the Chickasaw Tribe. ANDRE CHUNG — MCT

Chelsea Barnes, 20, a member of the Lumbee Tribe and a senior at the University of North Carolina, studies Political Science and Communications and is interning with Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma. Cole is a member of the Chickasaw Tribe. ANDRE CHUNG — MCT

Two out of the 12 students in this program are from a tribe seeking federal recognition. Both are Lumbee. Joined by Anthony “AC” Locklear, a first-year student at UNC School of Law, Barnes’ arrival on Capitol Hill falls weeks after the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs proposed a revision to the 35-year-old federal recognition process for tribes. It’s intended to make the process more transparent and efficient.

If the Lumbee Tribe were to receive federal recognition through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Cole said, his opinion could be different. That’s “the best way to go,” he said. “If they went through that process and signed off on (federal recognition) I wouldn’t have a problem with it.”

Locklear, who is interning with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, said the revised system could be a step toward this status for his tribe, which has petitioned for federal recognition since 1987. The prospect instills in him a newfound sense of hope, he said.

“I feel like it’s good timing that Chelsea and I are here in D.C., ‘infiltrating the system,’” Locklear said with a chuckle.

Although both Locklear and Barnes said they do not plan to fight for federal recognition this summer, “just being a face helps a great deal,” he said.

Cole’s resistance to granting the Lumbee Tribe federal recognition through Congress is not unique. When legislation for the tribe’s federal recognition came before Congress in 1989, the measure failed to pass both chambers. Yet Cole’s opportunity to meet with a member of the tribe is distinct, Locklear said.

“A lot of (lawmakers) have never met Lumbees and if they have, it’s only in the political arena,” Locklear said. “Being able to put such an innocent face, in Chelsea, behind our tribe will hopefully help them not be so opposed when they see Lumbee students who are really doing work for the other tribes as well.”

Such interactions between indigenous students and politicians elucidate the purpose of the internship, said Jane Curlin, director of Education Programs for the Udall Foundation.

She said an intern from the program could be “the first American Indian” someone in Washington has ever met. “Raising the visibility of how wonderful these native students are _ how accomplished they are and how much they have to offer _ I think is really important in Washington, D.C.,” Curlin said.

Over the course the program, all 12 interns _ each of whom works in separate offices across the three branches of government _ will periodically come

Anthony Locklear, 22, a member of the Lumbee Tribe, is a 2nd year law student at the University of North Carolina and is interning this summer at the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Interior Indian Affairs. ANDRE CHUNG — MCT

Anthony Locklear, 22, a member of the Lumbee Tribe, is a 2nd year law student at the University of North Carolina and is interning this summer at the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Interior Indian Affairs. ANDRE CHUNG — MCT

together to meet with senators and tribal leaders. Cole, who took an intern from this program for the first time this year, said he hopes the experience will enrich the diversity on Capitol Hill.

“I think too many other tribes have not taken the opportunity to directly impact the federal government,” he said. “They need to be actively engaged. Hopefully a lot of them will think about running for office themselves. I’d like other tribes to have that kind of opportunity to understand they can, indeed, shape the process.”

The interns’ first so-called “enrichment program” was a June 4 meeting with Sens. Mark and Tom Udall, of Colorado and New Mexico, respectively. Both are sons of the namesakes of the Udall Foundation, a congressionally established group that promotes programs for the environment and about Native Americans.

Morris Udall, Mark Udall’s father, and Stewart Udall, Tom Udall’s father, were ardent environmentalists who both served in the U.S. House of Representatives. Stewart Udall also served as secretary of the interior under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Their sons have been proponents of various Native American communities while in Congress.

“It’s nice to see that we’re carrying on that legacy as well as they are,” Locklear said.

Council threatens to shut down Lumbee tribal government over budget impasse

Published: July 24, 2013

By Ali Rockett
Staff writer for fayobserver.com

PEMBROKE, NC – The Lumbee Tribal Council is threatening to shut down its government if the administration continues refusing to share financial information with the council.

The council last week requested a ledger of all checks written since fiscal 2012 after discovering that Chairman Paul Brooks had purchased land beside a Lumberton golf course.

brooksBrooks refused to hand over the ledger identifying the names of who the checks were made out, sending a letter to the council saying it would break the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

The council met again Tuesday to discuss the matter and the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, and it once again met with resistance from the administration in requests for financial information.

Councilwoman Louise Mitchell said the council was entitled by law to itemized information, including the breakdown of employees’ salaries by job title, equipment and furniture to be purchased, travel expenditures, and legal and consultant services.

Mitchell said the information should have been provided before the meeting, but was not.

Councilwoman Danita Locklear made a motion that the council adjourn budget discussions until all requested financial information has been revealed to the council.

If not done in a timely manner, Locklear said, the council should contact the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which allocates nearly 90 percent, or about $12 million, of the tribe’s annual budget.

Mitchell’s motion received unanimous support.

“Why are we wasting our time?” Councilman Terry Campbell said. “I say, ‘No ledger. No budget.’ I don’t intend to come to another meeting and ask questions that people already have the answers to.”

Tribal administrator Tony Hunt told the council that the land at Pine Crest Village, which, according to deed records, was purchased for $36,000 by Lumbee Land Development, was not purchased with funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, but rather with money from a separate economic development venture.

It was further revealed during the meeting that Brooks submitted the tribe’s Indian Housing Plan, a pre-budget of sorts, to HUD without its approval or authorization.

Hunt, who is tasked with day-to-day operations of the tribe, said the plan had to be submitted by July 18, or the tribe risked jeopardizing its nearly $12 million allocation for the ensuing fiscal year.

Councilwoman Mitchell said the council has to pass a resolution authorizing Brooks to send the plan, which never happened.

Hunt said Brooks has the authority to submit it himself.

In the plan, Brooks requests HUD’s approval for an expenditure of $800,000 for a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, Hunt said after being questioned by the council. The center is to be managed by Brooks’ brother.

Council members said last week that Brooks had asked the council to approve the expenditure in the current year’s budget. They denied the request.

The council also questioned Hunt about the personal use of tribal vehicles. Hunt said he, Brooks and a member of the maintenance staff drive vehicles home. Hunt said he used his own car for personal use.
Tribal Councilmen Larry Chavis said he has seen Brooks driving his tribal vehicle “anywhere and everywhere.”

“The chairman is using this as his personal piggy bank,” said McDuffie Cummings, the council’s finance committee chairman. “It’s got to stop. If we don’t get that ledger, we will not fund this Indian Housing Plan.”

Although there was no opposition to getting the requested information, not all council members were on board with the idea of closing the Turtle, as the tribe is known.

“I would never go along with shutting this tribe down,” Councilman Terry Hunt said. “That wouldn’t hurt us or the administration. That hurts our people.”

Staff writer Ali Rockett can be reached at rocketta@fayobserver.com or 910-486-3528.

Lumbee Tribal Council probes land purchase by Chairman Brooks

By Ali Rockett Staff writer

Fayobserver

Jul 23, 2013

 

 

PEMBROKE, NC – Lumbee Tribal Council members are questioning the tribal chairman about the purchase of land near a Lumberton golf course.

The tribe uses federal money to buy land and build houses for its members. But council members say they don’t know what the lot in Pine Crest Village subdivision will be used for, and they say they didn’t authorize its purchase.

After the issue came up during a Thursday meeting, the council gave Chairman Paul Brooks until Friday at 5 p.m. to hand over a check registry from the past two fiscal years. Brooks has refused to turn over the registry. Council members plan to meet today to follow up on the matter.

Tax and deed records from April show that Lumbee Land Development Inc. purchased a lot in the subdivision for $36,000. Brooks is listed as the registered agent for Lumbee Land Development, according to the documents filed with the Secretary of State.

Council members said they believe the land was too expensive for most tribe members. More than 1,000 people are on a waiting list for housing services, and a typical land purchase for a home built by the tribe is around $10,000.

Lumbee Land Development has been involved in other tribal housing matters, deeds show. Several transactions and loan documents for land in the Arrowpoint neighborhood in Pembroke were filed with the Robeson County Register of Deeds between 2009 and 2011.

Brooks has not returned calls seeking comment on this story. He has said previously that he has the authority as chairman to make purchases for the tribe using money that’s budgeted for housing. Tribal Council members say they are supposed to authorize any expenses over $5,000. During a council meeting Thursday, members accused Brooks of spending money that the council had not authorized in its budget. Brooks didn’t attend the meeting.

Councilman Terry Collins said Brooks had requested $800,000 for a drug rehabilitation center to be run by his brother. The council denied the request, Collins said.

Collins said council members have questions about how tribal money is spent.

The council requested the records of all checks written since Oct. 1, 2011.

McDuffie Cummings, finance committee chairman, said the Tribal Council has a right to see that money is spent in accordance with the budget and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines.

“If it’s not in the budget, it shouldn’t be in the checks,” he said. “The (tribe’s) Supreme Court ruled that we do not have the right to tell him who to spend the money with. But the ruling was very clear that we do have the right to oversight.”

Tribal Administrator Tony Hunt declined to comment for this story on the land purchase in Pine Crest Village. He told the council Friday that Brooks would not release the full ledger because doing so could break privacy laws, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, known as HIPAA. Hunt said he sent a letter to the council elaborating on the privacy laws.

Hunt gave the council an 800-page redacted ledger Thursday before the council’s monthly meeting.

Cummings said it included the amounts of checks written, the account billed and whether it was for “services” or “payroll.” Cummings said the council wanted documentation of who was receiving money. He said the council can check to make sure the vendors are credible and doing work that is budgeted.

Council members say they’re trying to have more oversight of tribal finances since the resignation of Tribal Chairman Purnell Swett in 2011. A report from HUD said Swett misspent about $115,000 of the more than $14 million in federal money the tribe received that year.

The tribe is expected to receive about $12 million for the fiscal year beginning in October. Its total budget this year is more than $24 million.

The council meets today to discuss the new budget. Members also said they plan to take some action against Brooks for not sharing the financial records.

Staff writer Ali Rockett can be reached at rocketta@fayobserver.com or 910-486-3528.