PEMBROKE — Former U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre was honored Saturday for his years of support for full federal Lumbee recognition and his continuous efforts to make federal recognition become a reality.
During a ceremony held in the student center annex on the campus of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, McIntyre was praised for not only his support of the Lumbee Tribe, but also for his support of agricultural, educational, economic development and veterans issues that have over the years had a direct impact on the residents of Robeson County and Southeastern North Carolina.
“Twenty years ago this year you gave me the opportunity to go to Washington and serve in the People’s House,” McIntyre said. “To serve in the People’s House to me meant to do what was the will of the people back home.
“My desire in Congress was to do the right things for the people back home. I never forgot my roots,” he said. “I always wanted to do what was best for Robeson County and Southeastern North Carolina.”
McIntyre, a Democrat from Lumberton, served in the House from 1997 to 2015. Over those years, in June 2007 and June 2009, he successfully shepherded the Lumbee Recognition Bill through the U.S. House. That was accomplished under both a Republican president, George W. Bush, and a Democratic president, Barack Obama.
“We had strong bi-partisan support,” McIntyre said. “We had some of the most liberal and some of the most conservative members of Congress. We had democrats and Republicans. We had members of different races and from different places — from New York to Florida, from the East Coast to the West Coast and even from Alaska and Hawaii,” McIntyre said he was successful pushing the Lumbee bill because he personally spoke with each member of the House.
“It was difficult. It was a battle, but I was determined to get it passed. This wasn’t about politics, it was about people and the dignity they deserved.”
The legislation, however, could never get Senate approval.
The Lumbees have sought federal recognition since 1888. Congress recognized the tribe in 1956, but denied its members financial benefits afforded to other federally recognized tribes.
In 1989, the Lumbees petitioned the Bureau of Indian Affairs for full federal recognition . But the solicitor general said that because of language in the Lumbee Act of 1956, the tribe could only be recognized through Congress.
Lumbee recognition could mean hundreds of millions of dollars a year that would flow into the region to enhance economic development, health care and educational opportunities for the tribe.
Those who came to the podium and made presentations to McIntyre included Robin Cummings, chancellor of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke; James Hardin, executive director of the Lumbee Regional Development Association; Mitch Lowry, president of the Pembroke Kiwanis Club; Robeson County Commissioner Noah Woods; Tyler Thomas, town manager of Pembroke; Pembroke Councilwoman Theresa Locklear; and state Sen. Jane Smith.
Earlier in the day, McIntyre had handed out trophies at the Lumbee Homecoming’s 5 K run and fun walk, sponsored by the Pembroke Kiwanis Club. He also had been a participant in the annual Homecoming parade. Several thousand people lined the parade route in downtown Pembroke with 90-plus degree temperatures to view the parade that parade officials last week said had about 150 units.
John Lahr and his wife Tonia Locklear, of Pembroke, said they come to the parade every year.
“We have some relatives here from Florida, Virginia and Baltimore,” Lahr said. “For some of them it’s their first time at a Lumbee Homecoming.”
Lahr said he thinks there may not have been as many people at this year’s parade as in the past when crowds have been estimated at more than 25,000.
“Last year there were so many people you couldn’t walk on the sidewalk,” he said.
The crowd might have been depressed because of alleged threats of violence that Robeson County law enforcement agencies said could not be substantiated. No problem were reported.
Brothers Patrick Locklear, 43, of Pembroke and Ronnie Chavis, 42, of Red Springs, said they have been coming to Lumbee Homecoming events for years. The parade is always a big hit for both of them, they said.
“The parade is a crowd drawer, but the big reason people come to homecoming is to eat and see people they may have not seen for awhile,” Chavis said.
“I like to come here and be around people,” he said. “It’s great to see them all come together.
Saturday was the last day of the week-long Lumbee Homecoming. The week of activities ended with an outdoor gospel concert and a fireworks display.