LUMBERTON — President Donald Trump declared in a campaign event Saturday that he plans to fight for the "forgotten men and women" of the Lumbee Indian tribe.
Trump, speaking at a campaign event at the Robeson County Fairgrounds before several thousand supporters, reiterated his support of the Lumbee Recognition Act, a U.S. Senate bill that would give the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina full federal recognition and access to millions of dollars in community benefits.
"I love the sound of that drum. That's why I'm here," he said as a member of a drum circle sounded a drum behind him.
Behind the podium where Trump spoke, people held signs saying "Lumbees for Trump."
The tribe has sought federal recognition for more than 130 years, and it received limited recognition from the federal government in 1956.
"We'll always stand proud with Native American countries," he said.
Trump said he's fighting for men and women of every creed, race and color, including Native Americans.
"That's why we are here," he said, adding that other political officials have promised the tribe full status but "they clearly abandoned you when they got your vote."
"When I'm reelected I will proudly sign the Lumbee Recognition Act, which should have been signed a long time ago," he said. "And the people of North Carolina want that."
He said the administration has taken numerous steps to improve the lives of Native Americans, including creating a nationwide task force to combat the crisis of missing and murdered Native Americans.
The partial recognition of the Lumbee tribe has blocked the community, which has about 55,000 members and is headquartered in Pembroke in Southeastern North Carolina, from receiving benefits for education, health care and economic development that are available to other federally recognized tribes.
The legislation also would allow the tribe to open a casino in Robeson County not far from Interstates 95 and 74.
Trump's announcement comes two weeks after Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden announced his support for Lumbee recognition legislation.
In a news release Saturday, Biden commented on Trump's visit to Lumberton.
"President Trump's failures on COVID-19 and the economy have devastated countless families across North Carolina, and communities like the Lumbee Tribe in Robeson County — which has some of the highest rates of infection and deaths in the state — have borne the consequences of his disastrous leadership," Biden said in the release.
Trump also talked about other issues.
He said his administration is making strides fighting the coronavirus, saying the mortality rate is down due to therapeutic drugs.
Trump said "we're rounding the numbers" on the virus.
"Get your governor to open up your state, please," he said as the crowd feverishly yelled and clapped. "This is crazy what is going on here."
Trump said his administration is making strides at bringing peace to the Middle East and he is bringing soldiers home from Afghanistan.
He said America has served there for 19 years as "policemen."
"Would you say 19 years is enough? We're bringing our troops back home. I'm taking a lot of heat from the military-industrial complex," he said.
Trump also praised the economy under his administration and said electing Biden would take the country on a different path.
"(Biden) wants to raise your taxes massively," he said. "Joe is not what you need. I know what you need. You need Trump."
Trump said if reelected he will create new jobs, lower drug prices and cut regulations.
Under his administration, he said there has been the biggest tax cut in U.S. history.
Trump said if Biden is elected there will be a "tsunami of illegal immigration from throughout the world," and "tens of millions of people will flood into our country."
Trump said defense spending in North Carolina under his administration has soared.
"I will always stand with the great men and women who serve our nation," he said.
Trump said his administration has done more in "47 months than Sleepy Joe did in 47 years."
Trump expressed concern about voter fraud in this election, saying identification should be required for everyone, pointing out that it was even required for people to get into the Democratic National Convention.
If reelected, he said he will make America the manufacturing superpower of the world "and we will end our reliance on China."
Trump said he'll also strongly support the right to life and to bear arms.
"Get out and vote. You have no excuse because we have the numbers," he said.
The polls show a close race between Trump and Biden in North Carolina, which is considered among a handful of potential swing states in the Nov. 3 election.
During a news conference in Lumberton before Trump spoke, former Gov. Jim Hunt, members of the Lumbee tribe and Robeson County Democrats criticized the president's handling of the coronavirus.
"Native Americans contracted coronavirus at 3.5 times the rate of white Americans, and in some states, we are dying at a rate five times (our) population share," Robeson County Democratic Chairwoman Pearlean Revels said in a news release. "Coronavirus is devastating our livelihoods and endangering the lives of our brothers and sisters, and we have had to endure this crisis without the support of federal aid. ... Because of our partial federal recognition, we have been shut out from COVID-19 help provided through Indian Health Services. Where was Donald Trump's support for federal recognition earlier this year, when we had no way to get this lifesaving help?"
A letter signed by five Lumbee tribe members said Biden, not Trump, has taken the lead on the recognition of the tribe.
"Vice President Joe Biden truly supports full federal recognition of the Lumbee people," the tribe members said in the letter. "He did so as a Senator in 1992 and in the first months of the Obama-Biden Administration in 2009, and he stands with us still today. Nearly a month before President Trump, Joe Biden took action to reaffirm his longstanding support of the Lumbee tribe's push for federal recognition."
The letter adds that Biden "is a man of his word."
"Joe Biden coupled his statement of support with the rollout of the Biden-Harris Plan for Tribal Nations, a plan that will make far-reaching investments in Indian Country and addresses a wide range of concerns we as Lumbee people have been fighting to address," according to the letter. "The Biden campaign has a North Carolina Tribal Leadership Council to hear directly from Lumbee and other tribes, which tells us that the Biden-Harris administration is invested in addressing the issues that most concern us."
The letter to Lumbee tribe members, signed by members Kara Boyd, Concetta Bullard, Aminah Ghaffar, Demetrus Locklear and Alexis Raeana, says that "as we speak, the COVID-19 pandemic is ravaging our community."
"It is devastating our livelihoods and endangering the lives of our brothers and sisters," they say in the letter. "A testament to the true grit of our community, we've taken to fighting this virus head-on. But this was done without the support of federal aid. Because of our partial federal recognition, we have been shut out from COVID-19 help provided through Indian Health Services (IHS). Where was Donald Trump's support for federal recognition earlier this year, when we had no way to obtain this lifesaving help?"
But other members of the Lumbee tribe at the event voiced their support for Trump, saying they were impressed that he took his time to deliver the news about the tribe recognition in person.
"It resonated with all of us or we wouldn't be here," said 53-year-old Cochise Clark. "Our values are traditional American values."
Before Trump spoke, several Republican elected officials praised the president and urged people to get out and vote for Trump and themselves in the upcoming election.
They urged the public not to be swayed by the polls, and to make sure they took friends and loved ones to the polls to vote for Republicans.
U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop, who represents the 9th congressional district, said Trump is a man of action, and if elected he will make sure the tribe gets its long-awaited recognition.
"When Donald J. Trump does something, he doesn't do it halfway. When he goes, he goes big," he said.
Bishop said within 24 hours of Trump's announcing that he supports the Lumbee Recognition Act, the president said he'd be visiting Robeson County and telling people about his support for the tribe's recognition.
"Can you feel the momentum?" he said.
Bishop said Trump is not a politician but a man who fights for working people, "a man with whom we are forgotten no more."
U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, who represents the 8th congressional district, said they are not going to stop for Lumbee recognition in Congress until "we get it finished."
Hudson said Trump loves North Carolina. "The one way you could tell is he's always here," he said. "Our president is the hardest working president I know."
Hudson thanked Trump for what he called "the greatest economy in our lifetime."
He also said Trump has made great strides fighting the coronavirus, with steps such as Operation Warp Speed that is getting vaccines to the market quickly.
"We're not going to wait 10 years," he said. "We're going to have a vaccine by the end of the year. Thank you, President Trump."
Sonny Perdue, the U.S. secretary of agriculture and former governor of Georgia, said Trump cares about working people.
He said Trump's move to officially recognize the Lumbee tribe reflects his affection. "I've seen it up close. I know his heart," he said.
Perdue said he doesn't know how Trump withstands the attacks from the mainstream media every day.
"This man loves America as much as any man I've seen in my life. He truly wants America to be great again."