Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Lumbee Campaigns Focus on Housing

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Corbin Eddings attending Pembroke Day. PN Photo/Zachary C. Young

By: Zachery C. Young, Editor-In-Chief

In a very competitive battle, there are four candidates vying for the title of the sixth Lumbee Chairperson. Candidates Corbin Eddings, John Lowery, Ron Oxendine and Theresa Locklear each has a plan for addressing housing issues for the Lumbee. The election will be decided on November 9, 2021

This is the eighth election since the first Lumbee Tribal Chairperson election in 2000. Each may serve a max of two terms, with each term lasting three years.

Currently, the Lumbee Tribe gets its largest funding through Housing and Urban Development. These are known as restricted funds and must be used for a purpose approved by HUD. The Lumbee Tribe also has two businesses under the 8(a) program of the Small Business Administration. The companies that fall under 8(a) bid for federal contracting jobs.

Those two companies are Lumbee IT Solutions and Lumbee Tribal Enterprises. L56 (Lumbee 56 Construction) is not fully approved through 8(a) but is expected to be approved soon.

The funds these businesses produce are as unrestricted funds and can be used at the discretion of the tribe. LTE generated millions of dollars in unrestricted funds since its inception in 2011.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, the federal government aims to award at least 5% of federal contracting to small businesses.

Corbin Eddings:
Corbin Eddings is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, originally from the Red Banks area, but currently resides in the Mt. Airy community. Eddings owns and operates a State Farm branch here in the town of Pembroke. Eddings currently is the District 8 representative for the Lumbee Tribal Council.

Eddings is supportive of the initiatives the tribe has implemented recently but says things could always be improved. He said many members who have received housing assistance from the tribe, have complained about repair times.

“One of the things I want to do with our rehab program is contractor outreach. We got to get more contractors bidding on these jobs,” Eddings said. “The more folks we get bidding, the quicker we can serve our members.”

Keeping with that theme, Eddings would like to remove some of the red tape surrounding tribal members’ access to housing. This would include an increase in the amount of money available to qualified tribal members needing home improvements, as well as tribal members hoping to purchase a mobile home.

Eddings also favors limiting the requirements to match HUDs rather than imposing additional restrictions on applicants.

“We hear folks talk about ‘I wanted to get help with building a home, but they told me I had to have road frontage.’ If there is funding available, we should be the resource,” Eddings said. “The last thing we should be is the final barrier, we should be standing there opening a door, not putting another hoop in the way.”

Eddings hopes to make the tribe more accessible to its members, especially for tribal enrollment purposes, saying the tribe should assume some of the contact responsibilities that are required for enrollment.

If elected, Eddings would reach out to the tribe’s 4-county territory and set up enrollment stations. He hopes to also provide mobile enrollment in large Lumbee communities out of state, including Baltimore.

At this time, new tribal enrollment is limited to those who appear in-person to the tribal office in Pembroke.

Eddings would also push for a welcome center for the Lumbee tribe near the I-95/I-74 corridor.

“At South of the Border, they’re selling trinkets. Spending money hand over fist. I’m not saying we get down there side by side with South of the Border and compete,
but there’s enough traffic and there’s enough people; that’s where we put our welcome center. Then we allow our Native artists to bring authentic art whether it’s basket work, beading, carving, or regalia making. We put our people on display. Not just to us, but finally to the outside world,” Eddings said.

In the realm of healthcare, one of Eddings long-term goals, with the use of unrestricted funds, is to see the tribe create an opioid prevention and treatment center. Additionally, Eddings would like to see the tribe implement more veteran services such as providing transportation to and from doctor appointments and
prescription pickups.

Regarding federal recognition for the Lumbee, Eddings said the opposition stems from financial reasons.

“Let’s focus on the financial aspects of how we get this done and stop trying to make up excuses and asking us to prove something that you’ve already decided on,” Eddings said, referring to referring to the Lumbee Act of 1956 that recognized the Lumbee as Native Americans, but in the same act, denied the Lumbee of any federal assistance.

John Lowery:
John Lowery is a graduate of UNCP in 2003, with a bachelor’s degree in political science and public administration. After graduation from UNCP, Lowery ran for District 5 Tribal Council representative and won, becoming the youngest person ever elected to the Lumbee Tribal Council. Lowery decided against a second term, opting to serve at the federal level, working at the National Congress of American Indians and the Department of Agriculture.

“I wanted to continue to work on Indian policies and programs. I wanted that true national exposure of working with tribes all over the country,” Lowery said.

Currently Lowery is a Tribal Liaison for Carolina Complete Health. In this capacity he works with tribes throughout the state regarding Medicaid issues.

“I think I have an understanding of tribal issues, tribal sovereignty and tribal self-determination. That understanding and that experience working with other tribes, I’m able to take that and bring it into the role as tribal chairman.”

For full federal recognition, Lowery has a three-pronged approach. Continue to work from the legislative angle, attempt recognition through the executive branch via the Secretary of the Interior Deb Holland, and taking legal action against the government.

“With the 1956 Act where they recognized us and turned around and said we are not going to give you any services. We are the only tribe that is in that limbo status in the entire country. So I am very open to suing the federal government for how they have treated us and the promises they have made and not kept,” said Lowery.

Lowery refers to the entrepreneurial spirit that many Lumbee have. Suggesting it stems from being denied opportunities and services from businesses historically.

Lowery’s economic approach includes creating a Lumbee business network so that Lumbee’s could bid and hire other Lumbee members for their respective services. This would include providing financial literacy to these businesses.

With the tribes’ 8(a) companies, Lowery would like to see new tribal owned companies created to generate a larger pool of unrestricted funds. Ideally, hiring Lumbees for these jobs and if they do not possess the required skill set, local colleges and universities could collaborate with the tribe to get those Lumbee workers trained.

To assist with this, Lowery would enlist the help of the Thomas Entrepreneurship Hub, UNCP School of Business and other successful business owners in the community.

Lowery hopes to establish and maintain a relationship with the younger Lumbee population.

“I want to be that chairman who listens to our youth and hears them out. We have to understand what our youth are going through and their needs,” Lowery said.

Lowery said this would be possible with the creation of youth councils in various Lumbee communities.

Ron Oxendine:
Originally from Wakulla, N.C., Ron Oxendine is a graduate of UNCP in 1973 with a degree in biology. He is a retired Major of the United States Marine Corps, retiring in 1994 after 20 years of service. Oxendine owned and operated a defense contracting engineering company named RNB Technologies Inc. from 2000 to 2012.

RNB Technologies Inc. was instrumental in the United States missile defense, being involved in every missile defense test in the world. From 2007 to 2009 Oxendine was the lead analyst for the Israeli Defense Program.

Oxendine believes that renovating tribal homes is crucial, especially for the elders. Saying they should live in good conditions while they are with us. In addition to housing, Oxendine would provide medical transportation to Lumbee elders.

Following the improvement of the quality of life of elders, Oxendine has his sights on tribal youth.

“After taking care of elders, we should think about our future. And our future comes in our kids, primarily in the form of education. Giving them scholarships, housing stipends to go to school. Whether its UNCP, or other institutions,” Oxendine said.

Oxendine also aims to serve homeless Lumbee veterans by providing them with housing, vocational rehab and transportation to and from medical appointments.

Federal recognition is one of Oxendine’s primary tasks if elected as Chairperson.

“I’m not going to guarantee that federal recognition will occur. But I promise the people that I will do my best and work hard to seek federal recognition during my tenure as chairman,” Oxendine said. “My understanding is that if the Lumbee tribe were able to receive federal recognition, it might bring in $140 million a year in resources alone,” Oxendine said.

Oxendine plans to reach out to policy makers in neighboring states to garner support for Lumbee federal recognition.

“We spend our money in other states. Federal recognition would not only benefit our tribe, but it would also benefit South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, as well as Virginia,” Oxendine said.

Oxendine echoed the sentiments of Eddings. Hoping the tribe could one day own and operate an opioid treatment center. Oxendine also believes the tribe should advertise off the major interstates such as I-95 and I-74. Saying the tribe currently doesn’t advertise to travelers that they are in Indian Country.

Regarding economic development Oxendine has the idea of creating a distribution center with the federal government, partnering with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). This agency provides aid to developing countries, mainly food.

Oxendine says with the tribes’ proximity to railways and various ports such as Wilmington, N.C. and Charleston, S.C., the Lumbee tribe could be an ideal partner for USAID.

“We got to find ways to start businesses that will actually generate revenue for our tribe. We got to start trying to figure out a way to stand on our own in leu of just living off grants,” Oxendine said.

Theresa Locklear:
Theresa Locklear graduated from UNCP in 1997 with a bachelors in pre-law, in 2009 with a bachelor’s in social work and obtained her master’s in social work in 2010 from UNCP.

Currently Locklear works in investigations with the Robeson County Public Defender’s Office. Locklear also works with River Bend services as a licensed clinical social worker. She is currently serving her second term on the Pembroke Town Council.

Like her fellow candidates, Locklear hopes to address some of the issues surrounding housing.

“There’s a big concern with housing. I think we need to be building more houses and more repairs on elderly housing. I would have a point system and my point system would be where we service the elders first, then the veterans, then the disabled and finally other tribal members,” Locklear said.

Additionally, Locklear would help elders apply for Medicare and disability, as well as offer assistance with medication.

Locklear also has a vision to restore the Lumbee community through an adoption agency or foster home.

“I think it’s important for our children to be placed in foster care with Native American families. In order to do that right now you have to go to the Department of Social Services (DSS) in Lumberton or Scotland County to be a certified foster parent,” Locklear said.

Locklear is also a supporter of an opioid treatment facility. Stating that from May to August there have been approximately 900 overdoses in Robeson County.

“One of the biggest challenges we face is substance abuse We have a lot of grandparents raising grandchildren because of the substance abuse problem we have in Robeson County,” Locklear said.

If elected as Lumbee Tribal Chairperson, Locklear would also focus some of her administration’s efforts on the tribal youth. She would promote education not only at the college and university level but extend educational opportunities to trade schools. Locklear would make this possible by offering SAT and ACT prep classes, and helping students find financial aid and applying for college.

“We have got to start watching out for our young people. If we don’t start doing something with our young people, we’re not going to be a tribe. We’re going to eventually just not even be here anymore,” Locklear said.

Locklear’s economic plan is to work with other entities such as the Town of Pembroke, UNCP, LRDA and with county commissioners. She hopes to push small businesses to foster economic growth.

“The more small businesses we have, the more people we have employed. Then larger businesses will see how well we are doing with small businesses and be interested in coming in here,” Locklear said.

Harvey Godwin:
Current Lumbee Tribal Chairman, Harvey Godwin and his administration has increased the tribe’s overall budget from $17 million to $87 million during his two terms.

Godwin is proud to serve the Lumbee and shared that the Lumbee are the number one recipient of funding from the Native American Housing and Self Determination Act

Recently the Lumbee tribe had a clear audit from Native American Housing and Self-Determination Act and because of the success of that audit, the tribe received a Title VI loan to build 50 brand new affordable homes.

Godwin stated the need for these 50 homes was in response to the hurricanes that devastated Robeson County in 2016 and 2018.

Godwin is confident in the future of the Lumbee and the resources that will be at the tribe’s disposal.

“I look for the Lumbee tribe to very prosperous. With a budget of probably exceeding $500 million a year, helping our people in a profound way. I see more scholarships for our people going to school. I see better education for our kids,” said Godwin.

Regarding his successor, Godwin expressed excitement to see what they will do with their own platform to expand the Lumbee tribe.

“The next chairman, when they’re elected, if they wish, I will offer my hand for them to come in 30 days before they take office. To show them the whole gambit of programs and make their transition a lot easier,” Godwin said. “You have to do that for the people.”

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