Lumbee leader works to ease fears about the COVID-19 vaccine

LUMBERTON, N.C. (WTVD) -- The Lumbee Tribe is one of the many underrepresented communities in North Carolina taking steps to get its population vaccinated against COVID-19. The tribe's leaders are working to ease the concerns of those who are skeptical of the vaccine.

Tribal chairman Harvey Godwin Jr. is trying to set a good example for the Lumbee people.

"To protect the next seven generations, you have to start with the now. And I think we are at that point and time where it's critical to protect the next seven generations right now," Godwin said.
Godwin says the vaccine is critical to the future health and aspirations of his tribe and it starts with the most revered yet vulnerable members.

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"The elders are our wisdom, and if you can get them to participate in something like getting vaccinated, then they will tell their kids and their whole clan, and they will set the example that you should do this as well," Godwin said.

Godwin and his wife, who is a cancer survivor, received the vaccine to not only protect themselves, but to also set an example. He said he understands skepticism and mistrust among tribe members given the history of trauma in the indigenous community, but he added that the vaccine is the hope they need right now.

"We're never going to get out in front of this thing. It's my belief to defeat this thing is to continue to social distance of course ... continuing to do that, but the answer, I think, is with the vaccine," Godwin said.

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The federal government still doesn't recognize the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. More than 50,000 Lumbee depend on their local health departments for the vaccine.

In October, former President Donald Trump announced his support for a bill that would federally recognize the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina.

"For more than a century, the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina has sought federal recognition, but has been met with indifference and red tape," Trump wrote at the time. "Lumbee Nation is forgotten no more!"

North Carolina senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis sponsored the Lumbee Recognition Act in May 2019. The bill would make members of the Lumbee Tribe eligible for additional benefits and services from the federal government.

Now with a new administration and a new Congress, the fate of the bill remains unclear.

Godwin said federal recognition would mean better health care, so they'll continue fighting. In the meantime, he said brighter days lie ahead with a vaccine available.

"I think we all have an opportunity to be better ... to be healthier, and it starts with that we have to be healthier to do the big things we want to do," Godwin said.
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