Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Currents. Discussion »
Chairwoman Sharon Hunt (l) with
NC Governor Bev Perdue
PEMBROKE, NORTH CAROLINA - Sharon Hunt, tribal chairwoman of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, walked into Sheff's Seafood Restaurant, a popular Pembroke eatery, running late Wednesday evening because she had to make a stop to get some cages for two cats she had rescued the night before our interview. She volunteers for an animal organization that rescues injured animals.
Hunt, who has never married, is a workaholic. In addition to being the first female to be sworn in as the chair of the Lumbee Tribe, based in Pembroke, North Carolina, she is an assistant to the city manager of the City of Lumberton, North Carolina. She also waits tables at the Fuller's Old Fashion BBQ, a job she has held for years. "I love restaurant work and I have never gotten it out of my system. I am a people person. I love people."
Her love of people was quite obvious at a "meet and greet" in Lumberton with North Carolina's Governor Bev Perdue last Tuesday and then again as I sat with her at Sheff's. Several people from the Lumbee Tribe recognized her and congratulated her on her position, including Dr. Curt Locklear, Jr., a veterinarian with an office in nearby Lumberton, who greeted her by saying, "Hello, Chief!" Tribal member, Charles Bell, a gospel singer from Pembroke, stopped by the table to congratulate her elevation to tribal chair. She graciously greeted all who stopped by the table.
Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina Headquarters
She was sworn in last month after the resignation of Chairman Pernell Swett, who resigned citing health reasons. Hunt, who still represents the District Two, which includes Black Swamp, Fairmont and Smyrna, was serving as vice-chair at the time of Swett's resignation.
According to the tribe's constitution, Chairwoman Hunt will serve as chair until a special election will be held. In order to save the $20,000 an election will cost, the Tribal Council has decided to hold the election in November simultaneously with an already scheduled election to elect tribal council members.
An Inaugural Ceremony will be held at Southern Spirit Community Center, in the Back Swamp community, affectionately known as Hog Town, tomorrow night, June 14 at 6:30 pm.
In this exclusive interview with the Native News Network, Chairwoman Hunt displayed a certain amount of toughness with a genuine congenial style that will be needed to lead her tribe.
Congratulations on becoming chairwoman of the Lumbee Tribe and thank you for meeting with me. You told me you don't typically do interviews, why not?
Chairwoman Hunt: I don't talk to the media. They don't get it right. They like to put their own slant on things and they really donâ€™t do the Tribe justice by being so negative.
That is why there is a strong need for American Indian media. We don't need any more stories about how we all fight with each other.
Chairwoman Hunt: That's right. The negative stuff does not do any of us any good. There are a lot of good things happening.
Speaking about the good things, this is the first visit I have had to Pembroke and it is nice to see so many of your tribal members in business and doing well.
Chairwoman Hunt: We really do have some successful people doing well here. At one time Lumbees held almost all the key positions in the Robeson County: the sheriff, clerk of the court and other key positions. Our superintendent of schools is a tribal member. Our people have done well.
How many Lumbee members are there?
Chairwoman Hunt: There are over 55,000. We have Lumbee members in every state in the country. I would even say we have Lumbee members on every continent around the world.
And, the number will grow. We are going to open enrollment on June 27. So, you will see we will grow.
Right here, in Robeson County, we live in what is called a tri-racial county. The census shows there are almost as many whites, blacks and Indians here. But, the Lumbee outnumber each other group.
What are people looking for out a new chairman of the Tribe?
Chairwoman Hunt: People are looking for change. They want everyday people in our government. They want people with no political ties, who can get things done for the Tribe.
What did you think about FOX News' John Stossel in March saying the Lumbee are doing okay without being federally recognized?
Chairwoman Hunt: Well, I would have to disagree with him. I watched the show. He has it wrong. Of course, it makes sense for us to get federal recognition. Further, showing all the houses of successful Lumbee members was not fair. He did not show the homes of the poor Lumbee members.
When will the Lumbee Tribe seek federal recognition again?
Chairwoman Hunt: We do every Congress, as we have done for decades. Last year, I felt we were really close, but there was obviously some politics taking place. Our people have to understand, we will have to have a strong lobbyist involved in the process. It will cost us some money, but it will be worth it.
How are things going with the transition?
Chairwoman Hunt: Things have been going well the past couple of weeks. The staff has come together and things seem to be settling down. We have a lot of work to do, and we have some really good people working for the Tribe.
The Tribal Council has a lot of good people working on behalf of the Tribe. I think it is important to let everyone say what they have to say. We will get along fine.
Your tribe is without a tribal administrator right now. Are you going to hire someone to fill the position?
Chairwoman Hunt: I am not going to hire anyone. It would not be fair to the new chairman.
So, you are not running for chair in November?
Chairwoman Hunt: Just say, I don't have any intention of running at this time.
What could change your mind about running?
Chairwoman Hunt: Just say, I don't have any intention of running at this time. (She said it with a smile on her face.)
posted June 13, 2011 8:17 am et
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