Federally “recognized” but denied the sovereign status that 573 other tribal nations have, the 55,000-strong Lumbee Indians—the largest tribe east of the Mississippi—reside in the margins of US definitions of race, culture, and sovereignty. They lack access to the federal funds—limited though they are—for housing, schools, and health granted to the nation’s 573 federally recognized tribal nations, leaving the Lumbee with a kind of second-class status.
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 1700s, settled in the swamps along the Lumber River in southeastern North Carolina, intermarrying with whites and with blacks, both free and enslaved. Today, many live in Robeson County—North Carolina’s poorest, with more than 70 percent of children living below the poverty line and with unemployment 40 percent higher than the state’s average. Robeson is also the most racially diverse rural US county, with Native Americans comprising 39 percent of the population, followed by whites (28 percent), blacks (24 percent) and Latinxs (9 percent).
Though the Lumbee have been recognized by the State of North Carolina since 1885, the federal government never followed suit, despite the tribe’s many efforts over the next 130 years to satisfy the US Department of the Interior’s intricate requirements for federal recognition.Read Debby’s Full Article at Nonprofit Quarterly
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