Who are the Lumbee?
The Lumbee’s own history has complicated their fight for recognition as much as anything else. The tribe did not exist before the arrival of Europeans in North Carolina. Unlike other tribes, many Lumbee adopted Christianity and the land ownership they learned from white settlers. In 1956, Congress passed the Lumbee Act, which granted them recognition as Indians, but denied them any benefit given to other tribes. No other tribe in the country exists under these rules. Who are the Lumbee? This is the N&O special report.
Across North Carolina, approximately 125,000 people identify themselves as Native American or Alaska Native, a statewide total which ranks among the tallest east of the Mississippi River.
Add in those who identify as native in combination with other ethnicities and the total exceeds 300,000, or 3% of the state’s population.
North Carolina recognizes eight distinct tribes, although only the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has full federal recognition. With over 16,000 registered members, much of the tribe lives on the Qualla border in the mountains of the western state.
The Lumbee tribe of North Carolina is the largest in the state, with approximately 55,000 members. Their campaign for full federal recognition is the longest and most well-known.
The other six, although smaller, occupy a distinct place in the makeup of the state.
The tribe’s numbers total over 4,000, most of whom live in Halifax and Warren counties, particularly Hollister. The Haliwa-Saponi are also seeking full federal recognition. In 2019, the tribe hosted a gala to benefit these efforts, according to the Warren Record.
The Coharie live in four main settlements around Harnett and Sampson counties: Holly Grove, New Bethel, Shiloh, and Antioch. With approximately 3,000 members, the tribe has occupied the land around the Little Coharie River since the early 18th century. He holds a annual pow-wow at his tribal center in Clinton.
The Meherrin occupy Bertie and surrounding counties in the northeast corner of North Carolina, straddling the Virginia line. Most of its members are of Tuscarora and Nottoway ancestry, at one point sharing a common language before dissolving and dispersing in the 18th century.
The tribe is centered around Alamance, Caswell and Orange counties with approximately 1,100 members. Its members are descended from Siouans who lived in Piedmont when European settlers arrived in the 1600s. Their main settlement is the community of Little Texas in Alamance County, where the Occaneechi purchased land for a tribal center.
Since the early 1700s, the Sappony tribe have made their home in the High Plains region of Person County, also covering part of Virginia. Until 2003, they were known as the “Indians of Person County” and the tribe now numbers around 850 members under the more specific name.
Much like their neighbors the Lumbees, the Waccamaw Siouans sought safety in the 1700s around the swamps near the South Carolina border. With over 2,000 people around Bladen and Columbus County, the tribe calls itself “People of the Falling Star.”
This story was originally published 12 December 2021 6:00 a.m.