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October 15, ; Daily Yonder. How did this happen, what does it mean for the Lumbee people, and what does it add to our understanding of the Native American narrative? The Lumbee are the descendants of a mix of Siouan- Algonquian- and Iroquoian-speaking peoples who, in the s, settled in the swamps along the Lumber River in southeastern North Carolina, intermarrying with whites and with blacks, both free and enslaved. Robeson is also the most racially diverse rural US county, with Native Americans comprising 39 percent of the population, followed by whites 28 percentblacks 24 percent and Latinxs 9 percent.
With this clause, Congress granted the Lumbee recognition and, at the same time, devalued that recognition. Why did the US government deny the Lumbee sovereign status? Second, this was the era of Indian termination policya decades-long effort to assimilate Native peoples who survived genocide, part of the long, disturbing history of US colonialism. A process for delineating how a tribe could seek federal recognition was finally articulated in judicially through a federal court decisioncongressionally through a lawor administratively through a process administered by the US Department of the Interior.
The process is laborious and often impossible for tribes impacted by colonialism, Christianization, and assimilation processes. Though repealed in the s, this law ensures that American Indians in Virginia trying to document their ancestry face a year gap in records. Inthe Lumbee prepared a lengthy petition to the DOI but were formally rejected two years later.
They have unsuccessfully submitted nearly 30 bills to Congress for full recognition since then, with the closest attempt coming in But the cost of not having legal tribal identity exerts more than an economic toll on native people. A year ago, Edgar Villanuevaauthor of Decolonizing Wealth and chair of the board of Native Americans in Philanthropywho is Lumbee, also addressed this situation in a letter to the Washington Post :.
Growing up as a Lumbee Indian in North Carolina inherently involves an identity crisis: Native Americans are the sole race or ethnicity that is acknowledged only if the government says we exist. We exist, yet we still have to prove it. Alcoholism, substance abuse, and suicide are linked to this fundamental questioning of our identity. To try to feel safe inside that box and then be told to prove your right to be in that box is deeply demoralizing.
Lumbees have consistently faced, and often aggressively challenged, the Americans use to describe people by race, tribe, or recognition status…Historically, being Lumbee has been more complicated than identifying with a racial group. Lumbee concepts of family and place are beyond race, though the national dialogue about what race and freedom means has had a profound effect on us.
Debby Warren has spent the last 35 years doing, funding, supporting and studying community-based development and philanthropy, particularly in the American South. As a consultant, she is most happy working with justice-oriented non-profits of all sizes that recognize that they need to change for greater impact and sustainability, and are willing to reflect, take risks, break down walls, ask hard questions, plan and act. Debby remains perplexed about non-profit governance — is it deed to really work or work just well enough?
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Convolutions of Race and Identity: The Lumbee Struggle for Sovereignty