PEMBROKE, N.C. – Even as next year's appropriations for the U.S. Treasury's Department's Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDFI) hangs in the web of legislative and political conflict in Washington, leaders of one Native American tribe credit the program for helping their community take its first steps towards financial independence. Members of the tribe, called the Lumbee, have been documented as living in what is now North Carolina for the last 300 years, tribe leaders said, and remain among the poorest of all the state's residents. "There are about 45,000 to 50,000 enrolled Lumbee spread out over the United States," said James Hardin, planning director for the Lumbee Regional Development Association, (LRDA) a non-profit group which has been dedicated to serving the area where most of the Lumbee live since 1967, "but the majority live in North Carolina in the poorest county of all the state's 100 counties," he said. "This is the exactly kind of place and population the CDFI has been created to help," he added. That may be true, but how the CDFI, or anyone else, might be able to help the Lumbee and their region has been the subject of some controversy recently. Historically, economic and social assistance programs the Lumbee could use have been administered by the LRDA. But a group of Lumbee discontented with the LRDA brought suit to force a different form of governance for the tribe, Hardin said. The result of that lawsuit was a court order that formed the Lumbee Tribal Council, (LTC) an elected body that now administers programs, many of which had been previously administered by the LRDA, directed solely at the tribe members. Since the court's decision many of the traditional LRDA programs have been moved to the Tribal Council and this, both the LRDA and Council admit, have managed to confuse many participants and have contributed to confusion about the money from CDFI. "Somehow it got reported that two groups of Lumbee got money to start credit unions," Hardin said, "but that's just not true. What we (the LRDA) got was money to help establish a community lending program that we expect we can use to do things like provide loans and grants for down payments on homes and loans for start-up businesses, " he said. " We are not necessarily looking to start a credit union." Neither group knew the other was applying to the CDFI, Hardin said, something the Tribal Council said as well. The LRDA got over $87,000 from the CDFI, Hardin said. For its part the Tribal Council said that it also has not made a decision for a credit union yet but had gotten money from the CFDI to take the first steps toward organizing some sort of community financial effort, which might be a credit union but might not. One difference between the two group's efforts is that, if the Tribal Council starts a credit union it will have a field of membership that includes only enrolled tribal members, according to Dr. Ruth Woods, Lumbee tribal administrator. The LRDA community financial effort will also serve members of other tribes and non-Indians who happen to live in the area, according to Hardin. "We are only in the first step of what could be a five-year process," Woods said, admitting that the Tribal Council was inclined towards a credit union but specifying that no decision had been made yet. Despite the appearance of confusion and conflict between the two groups, both Hardin and Woods denied that the two groups were competing with one another and said that the new administrative structure will provide the tribe with a clearer understanding of which organization does what. Hardin, for example, works for the LRDA but also has a seat on the 23 member Tribal Council. For his part, if the Tribal Council starts a credit union, Hardin said he could envision a cooperative arrangement whereby the LRDA might provide the sorts of grants and loans that would allow a Lumbee to apply to the Tribal Council's credit union for a mortgage. "The area we are talking about it so poor, that there is no danger of overlap," he noted. "There is plenty of work for everybody." Woods said the Tribal Council would be open to this cooperation as well. Such a multi-faceted total lending effort is actually part of the CDFI's focus when working with Native American groups, according to one expert. CDFI provided the money for both groups under its Native American Technical Assistance program, and Elsie Meeks, executive director of the South Dakota-based First Nations Oweesta Corporation said that such multiple grants to one tribal group or one reservation are not uncommon. Meeks noted that, on a nearby Lakota reservation, the CDFI had funded efforts directed at individual financial education and services as well as efforts targeted at more community development efforts like small business loans and housing assistance. "They are not at all the same market or the same issues," she noted. [email protected]

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