Telling Our Own Stories: Lumbee History and the Federal Acknowledgment Process

Telling Our Own Stories: Lumbee History and the Federal Acknowledgment Process

The American Indian Quarterly
Volume 33, Number 4, Fall 2009
pages 499-522
E-ISSN: 1534-1828, Print ISSN: 0095-182X

Malinda Maynor Lowery, Assistant Professor of History
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Being part of and writing about the Lumbee community means that history always emerges into the present, offering both opportunities and challenges for my scholarship and my sense of belonging. I was born in Robeson County, North Carolina, a place that Lumbees refer to as “the Holy Land,” “God’s Country,” or, mostly, “home,” regardless of where they actually reside. My parents raised me two hours away in the city of Durham, making me an “urban Indian” (or as my cousins used to say, a “Durham rat”). I have a Lumbee family; both of my parents are Lumbees, and all of my relatives are Lumbees—I’m just a Lum, I’m Indian. This is how I talk about myself, using terms and categories of knowledge (like “home” and “Lum”) that have specific meanings to me and to other Lumbees but may mean nothing special to anyone else. Stories and places spring from these categories and become history.

I was drawn to researching and writing about my People’s history in part because the opportunity to tell our own story was too rare for me to pass up. Outsiders, people who do not belong to the group, have told our stories for us, often characterizing us as a “tri-racial isolate,” “black Indians,” or “multi-somethings.” Lumbees seem to have a particular reputation for multiracial ancestry. Perhaps our seemingly anomalous position in the South raises the question—as nonwhites, the argument goes, whites must have classed Lumbees socially with African Americans; therefore, Lumbees must have married African Americans extensively because they could not have married anyone who was white. At the heart of these arguments are two converging assumptions: one, that ancestry and cultural identity are consanguineous rather than subject to the changing contexts of human relations, and two, that white supremacy is a timeless norm rather than a social structure designed to ensure the dominance of a certain group. Race has been linked to blood and ancestry…

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