The Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina is a state recognized tribe of approximately 55,000 enrolled members, most of them living in Robeson and the adjacent counties in southeastern North Carolina. The Lumbee Tribe is the largest tribe in North Carolina, the largest tribe east of the Mississippi River, and the ninth-largest organized tribe in the nation that does not have federal recognition. According to the 2000 US Census report, the population of the city of Pembroke, North Carolina, is 89% Lumbee Indian and that of the county is nearly 40% Lumbee.
The Lumbee are one of eight state-recognized Native American tribes in North Carolina; they have been recognized by the state since 1885. They participate at the state level in many ways, including in the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs. They also participate in such national organizations as the National Congress of American Indians and the National Indian Education Association. They do not have federal recognition.
The Lumbee Tribe is an consolidation of several tribes from Virginia, North and South Carolina which includes mulatto’s (children of former African/Irish Indentured Servants) who came back with the Waccamaw-Siouan after the Indian Wars against the Tuscarora. These tribes merged together in order to survive during the European expansion that was happening around them.
The earliest document showing Indian communities in the area of the Lumber River is a map prepared by John Herbert, the commissioner of Indian trade for the Wineau Factory on the Black River, in 1725. Herbert identifies the four Siouan-speaking communities as the Saraws, Pee dee, Scavanos, and Wacomas. Modern-day Lumbee claim connection to these settlements, but none was located in present-day Robeson County.
The ancestors of modern-day Lumbee had not yet occupied Robeson County when the area was first surveyed by the English in the 1750s. A colonial surveying party reported in 1754 that “No Indians” lived in Bladen County, which at that time included present-day Robeson County. The adjacent Anson County, whose indefinite borders stretched west to Cherokee territory, was identified as “a frontier to the Indians”.
Ancestors of the Lumbee, identifiable by surname, were first found in Robeson County in the 1770s. A 1772 proclamation by North Carolina Governor Arthur Hobbs, derived from a report by his agent, Col. Rutherford, head of a Bladen County militia, listed the names of inhabitants who took part in a “Mob Railously Assembled together,” apparently defying the efforts of colonial officials to collect taxes. The proclamation declared the “Above list of Rogus [sic] is all living upon the Kings Land without title.” Later a colonial military survey described, “50 families a mixt crew, a lawless People possess the Lands without Patent or paying quit Rents.” The families have been identified by surname as direct and founding ancestors of numerous modern-day Lumbee. They were classified at the time as “mullatos,” a term for mixed race, generally African and European.
Land patents and deeds filed with the colonial administrations of Virginia, North and South Carolina during this period show that individuals now claimed as Lumbee ancestors migrated from southern parts of Virginia and northern parts of North Carolina. In the first federal census of 1790, the ancestors of the Lumbee were enumerated as Free Persons of Color, who were generally of mixed race. In 1800 and 1810, they were counted in “all other free persons”.
During Reconstruction, when these “mullato” families first asserted an Indian heritage, attempts were made to revise history to place the Lumbee ancestors in Robeson County several decades earlier. Hamilton McMillan wrote in 1885 that Lumbee ancestor James Lowrie received sizable land grants early in the century and by 1738 possessed combined estates of more than two thousand acres (8 km²). Dial and Eliades claimed that another Lumbee ancestor, John Brooks, established title to over one thousand acres (4 km²) in 1735, and Robert Lowrie gained possession of almost 700 acres (2.8 km²). These claims, however, were false, as a state archivist noted that no land grants were issued during these years in North Carolina. The first land grants to documented individuals claimed as Lumbee ancestors did not take place until more than a decade later, in the 1750s. None of the various petitions for federal recognition has relied on the McMillan, Dial or Eliades claims.
Land records show that beginning in the second half of the 18th century, persons since identified as ancestral Lumbee took titles to land described in relation to Drowning Creek (Lumber River) and prominent swamps such as Ashpole, Long, and Back swamps. According to James Campisi, the anthropologist hired by the Lumbee tribe, this area “is located in the heart of the so-called old field of the Cheraw documented in land records between 1737 and 1739.” The location of the Cheraw Old Fields is documented in the Lumbee petition for recognition based on Siouan descent, prepared by Lumbee River Legal Services in the 1980s. But, other researchers point out that the Cheraw fields were actually in South Carolina, not in North Carolina. In 1771, a convicted felon by the name of Winsler Driggers was captured “near Drowning Creek, in the Charraw settlement” was hanged under the Negro Act. This mention, along with no evidence that a new settlement was established or the old settlement was abandoned, does not confirm that the settlement on Drowning Creek in 1754 was a Cheraw settlement.
Beginning in the mid-eighteenth century, many migrants from Virginia entered the frontier area. In the 1790-1810 censuses, descendants of these families were classified as both white (European American) and free people of color, which included people of African and Native American descent, as well as African and European. The settlers held few slaves. Late 20th-century researchers have traced 80 percent of the free people of color in North Carolina listed in those two decades of censuses to African Americans free in Virginia in colonial times. Based on court records, land deeds, indentures and other material, Paul Heinegg found that the mixed-race families were descended mostly from white women (which is what gave them free status so early) and men who were African or African American in unions of the colonial years. In addition, some African male slaves had been freed in Virginia as early as the mid-17th century. Together with free white women, they founded free families of several generations before migrating to other areas. In the early years of the southern colonies, working-class whites and Africans lived and worked closely together, marrying and forming unions. Many free people of color migrated to frontier areas to gain relief from the racial strictures of the coastal plantation areas.
Pension records for veterans of the American Revolutionary War in Robeson County listed men with surnames later associated with Lumbee families, such as Samuel Bell, Jacob Locklear, John Brooks, Berry Hunt, Thomas Jacobs, Thomas Cummings, and Michael Revels. In 1790, ancestral Lumbee such as Barnes, Bell, Braveboy (Brayboy), Brooks, Bullard, Chavers (Chavis), Cumbo, Hammonds, Hunt, Jacobs, Lockileer (Locklear), Lowrie (Lowry/Lowery), Oxendine, Revils (Revels), Strickland, and Wilkins were listed as inhabitants of the Fayetteville District; they were enumerated as “Free Persons of Color” in the first federal census.
Following Reconstruction in the 1880s, Democratic state representative Hamilton MacMillan came up with an idea to thwart the success of the biracial Populist movement in the 1880s which combined the strength of poor whites and blacks. MacMillan proposed that the historically free blacks of Robeson County were not black at all but rather Indians. He proposed a state law calling them “Croatan Indians” and creating a system of Croatan Indian schools. McMillan’s success in gaining an Indian classification for these free blacks gave them a social status above other blacks. The newly minted Croatan Indians gratefully voted for MacMillan and his fellow Democrats and were authorized to have Indian schools in Robeson County. By the end of the 19th century, the “Indians of Robeson County” (as they then identified) established schools in eleven of their principal settlements.
In 1887, the Indians of Robeson County petitioned the state legislature to establish a normal school to train Indian teachers for the county’s Indian schools. With state permission, they raised the requisite funds, along with some state assistance, which proved inadequate. Several tribal leaders donated money and privately held land for schools. Robeson County’s Indian Normal School developed into Pembroke State University and subsequently as the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
In 1899, North Carolina Congressional representatives introduced the first bill in Congress to appropriate federal funds to educate the Indian children of Robeson County. They introduced another bill a decade later, and yet another in 1911. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs, T.J. Morgan, responded to Congress and the Croatan Indians, writing that, “so long as the immediate wards of the Government are so insufficiently provided for, I do not see how I can consistently render any assistance to the Croatans or any other civilized tribes.” [sic, civilized tribes were defined in contrast to Indians on reservations, who were wards of the government.] Those Indians who were not on reservations, such as those in Robeson County, were considered United States citizens and the responsibility of state governments, not the federal government. It had a special relationship only with the tribes on reservations.
By the first decade of the 20th century, a North Carolina Representative introduced a federal bill to establish “a normal school for the Indians of Robeson County, North Carolina,” to be paid for by the federal government. Charles F. Pierce, U.S. Supervisor of Indian Schools in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, opposed the legislation since, “[a]t the present time it is the avowed policy of the government to require states having an Indian population to assume the burden and responsibility for their education, so far as is possible. The federal government had a relationship and responsibility only to those Indians resident on Indian reservations, who were considered legally to have tribal rather than U.S. and state citizenship.
The people achieved state recognition as “Croatan Indians” in the 1880s. In 1911, at the request of the tribe, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation changing their name to “Indians of Robeson County.” In 1913, over the objections of the existing federally recognized Cherokee Nation tribes in Oklahoma, which were federally recognized, the North Carolina legislators added “Cherokee” to the name of the Robeson County tribe. The tribe petitioned for federal recognition as “Cherokee” Indians, but it was denied. From 1913 to 1932, North Carolina legislators introduced bills in Congress to change the name of the people to Cherokee and gain federal recognition, but did not succeed.
In the early 20th century, North Carolina requested federal assistance for information related to the status of Indians in the state. The Southeast tribes had been subject to Indian Removal in the 1830s, and had reservations in Oklahoma. Those Indians remaining in the state were considered state and federal citizens; there were no Indian reservations in the state. The legislature was chiefly reviewing issues related to the state’s treatment of the Cherokee living in the state.
In 1915, the report of Special Indian Agent O.M. McPherson of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was sent to the North Carolina legislature. He primarily reported on the Cherokee in the state. He noted that the Indians of Robeson County had developed an extensive system of schools and a political organization. He thought that, as state-recognized Indians, they were eligible to attend federal Indian schools. But, as they were highly assimilated, spoke English, and already worked in the common state culture, he doubted that the federal Indian schools could meet their needs. Congress did not provide any additional funding to support education for Indians in North Carolina.
In 1924, the Cherokee Indians of North Carolina petitioned for federal recognition as “Siouan Indians;” their request was rejected by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Congressional committees continued to refuse to have the federal government assume educational responsibility for the Indians of Robeson County, as they were state citizens and part of that public responsibility.
The Lumbee Act, also known as H.R. 4656 (Pub.L. 84–570, 70 Stat. 254), passed by Congress in late May 1956 as a concession to political lobbying and signed by President Dwight David Eisenhower, designated the Lumbee as an Indian people. It withheld recognition as a “Tribe”, as agreed to by the Lumbee leaders. The Lumbee Act designated the Indians of Robeson, Hoke, Scotland, and Cumberland counties as the “Lumbee Indians of North Carolina. “as requested by the Lumbee HR 4656 stipulated that “[n]othing in this Act shall make such Indians eligible for any services performed by the United States for Indians because of their status as Indians.” It also forbids a Government relationship with the Lumbees and forbids them from applying through the BARS, B.I.A. process for recognition. This restriction as to eligibility for services was a condition which tribal representatives agreed to at the time in order to achieve the name for their group. The Lumbee have never been a sovereign nation or had a treaty with the federal government. They lived the same as any other colonial and U.S. citizens as individuals. Lumbee spokesmen repeatedly testified that they were not seeking financial services; they said they only wanted a name designation as Lumbee people.
In 1987, the Lumbees petitioned the U.S. Department of the Interior for full federal recognition. This is a prerequisite to receive the financial benefits accorded federally recognized Native American tribes. These were generally associated with tribes who had reservations established for them and a history of a tribal relationship with the federal government. The petition was denied because of the Lumbee Act.
The Lumbee resumed lobbying Congress, testifying in 1988, 1989, 1991 and 1993 in efforts to gain full federal recognition by congressional action. All of these attempts failed in the face of opposition by the Department of Interior, the recognized Cherokee tribes, including North Carolina’s Eastern Band of the Cherokee; some of the North Carolina Congressional delegation, and some representatives from other states with federally recognized tribes. Some of the North Carolina delegation separately recommended an amendment to the 1956 Act that would enable the Lumbee to apply to the Department of Interior under the regular administrative process for recognition. In 2004 and 2006The tribe made renewed bids for full recognition, to include financial benefits.
In 2007 US Senator Elizabeth Dole from North Carolina introduced the Lumbee Recognition Act. It was not acted on. On January 6, 2009, US Representative Mike McIntyre introduced legislation (H.R. 31) to grant the Lumbee full federal recognition. The bill has since garnered the support of over 180 co-sponsors, including that of both North Carolina Senators (Richard Burr and Kay Hagan). On June 3, 2009, the US House of Representatives voted 240 to 179 for federal recognition for the Lumbee tribe, acknowledging that they are descendants of the historic Cheraw tribe. The bill went to the US Senate. On October 22, 2009, the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs approved a bill for federal recognition of the Lumbee. The bill includes a no-gaming clause, which adjourned for 2010 without taking action.