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Long-dormant Indian cultural center could get boost

The state would sell 384 acres in Robeson County to the Lumbee Indians and let them try to develop a cultural center that has failed to materialize after more than three decades of effort, under a plan advanced Wednesday.

The Lumbees would be given the first shot at buying the land, with conditions that it be preserved for public access and to protect artifacts. If that doesn’t work out, the land could be sold at public auction without those conditions.

The Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee approved the plan on Wednesday, and directed staff to draw up a bill that will be introduced next year.

Committee members were concerned that the Lumbees not return to the General Assembly looking for additional money if the development plans don’t pan out. But a representative of the tribe told them the money was available and they were ready to purchase the land.

The property is one of four parcels comprising the site adding up to 528 acres that the state bought for $1.5 million in the 1980s. Its tax assessment is now $2 million. An appraisal will be done before the deal is completed.

What to do with the rest of the property remains undecided. Committee members said they thought prospects for a private buyer were slim, as long as the restrictions remain on the property. Staff estimated more than $2 million in repairs and renovations are necessary. They also said they recognized the value in preserving native American culture and history.

Some of the property might fit into the state Division of Parks and Recreation’s long-range plans for paddling access points to the adjoining Lumber River, which has been designated one of the state’s four wild and scenic rivers.

As far back as the mid-1970s, plans were made to create a theme park cultural attraction for all of the state’s eight American Indian tribes. In 1981, an ambitious plan was developed at a cost of around $3 million for an attraction that would draw 200,000 visitors a year. In 1989, the state began leasing the land to the Lumbees for $1 a year.

State legislative staff began looking into the project this summer at the committee’s direction. It reported back Wednesday on its findings:

     -       Development has been hindered by the geography and lack of accessibility of the site.

     -       The facilities that are there are dilapidated, and are the target of thieves and vandals.

     -       The state doesn’t have an effective way of overseeing the cultural center project.

     -       The site isn’t an ideal location to preserve Indian culture. The rest of the state’s tribes want a more centralized location.

The Program Evaluation staff recommended the state Commission on Indian Affairs come up with a new plan to preserve and promote American Indian culture.


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