In the final days before the election, both the Trump and Biden campaigns are trying their luck at courting a last few votes. They are hoping Lumbee voters may help swing the state.
Over the weekend, Trump greeted thousands at a rally in Lumberton, Robeson County. The visit came on the heels of recent statements from both Trump and Biden asserting support for full federal recognition for the Lumbee tribe.
Christopher Cronin, a political science professor at Methodist University in Fayetteville, says the strategy is a last ditch effort to swing the largely centrist voters from the over 55,000 member tribe.
“You've got cultural conservative values and kind of economic populism in play,” says Cronin about the interests of Lumbee voters. “And then you still have civil rights issues with everything that's been going on the last year or two.”
Lumbee Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin said in a statement he is “hopeful that the Lumbee bill will be on the President’s desk before the end of this year.” Federal recognition would mean access to millions in federal funding, and the potential for a casino down the line.
But many in the Lumbee community view these political moves with a healthy dose of skepticism.
John Lakota Locklear sits on his uncle’s back porch in rural Robeson County on a recent afternoon. The 23-year-old musician said he’s already had plenty of experience seeing his community targeted by candidates or their surrogates.
“They’ll come maybe a month, two months before an election. Which is a coincidence right?,” he said.
Locklear is planning to cast his first-ever first vote for Biden. One reason for his decision is Trump’s recent statements about Columbus Day. The President condemned what he called “radical activists” who “have sought to undermine Christopher Columbus’s legacy.” Many Indigenous Americans want to see the day officially renamed Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Aminah Ghaffar is an Afro-Indigenous member of the Lumbee Tribe. She recently joined the Biden Campaign’s North Carolina Tribal Leadership Council. Despite being part of the campaign, she’s skeptical of the way the Lumbee Tribe is being targeted by both Democratic and Republican politicians.
“I don't want to hear what they're going to do. We've been told for a long time that we were gonna get recognition. And again, no one's come through with it,” said Ghaffar, noting that the process is both complex and contentious.
In Pembroke, where the Lumbee Tribe is officially headquartered, Anthony Locklear stands by a display of Trump hats in the Southern States Supply Store. The part-time employee and retired public school teacher doesn’t want to say outright who he’s planning on voting for this year. But he says the Trump rally in nearby Lumberton was valuable for the tribe.
"People recognized our university. [Trump] asked the chancellor to stand. He's a former classmate of mine, so I'm real proud of that. Anytime the president comes to your county, it's a big, major thing, whether you're a Trump person or not,” said Locklear.
Mitchell Carter, 26, describes himself as a bipartisan voter. He voted for Trump in 2016, but this year he is still mulling his decision.
"I am undecided at this moment. I don't know if I want to give Trump my vote like I did in 2016, because his rhetoric, it's terrible, for lack of a better term. His rhetoric is terrible,” said Carter.
Carter’s happy to see the Lumbee Tribe garner so much political attention. But ultimately, the presidential candidates are still fighting for his vote.
"If what a man says isn't what he does, then he's told you everything about him. And I felt like I saw that already in Joe Biden under the Obama administration for eight years. I feel like I've seen that in Trump for the past four years,” says Carter, referring to past political statements related to Lumbee federal recognition. “And I'm not sold on either party."
On November 3, the votes will tell whether the aggressive campaigns swayed this key group.