Cultural and Historical Information of the Lumbee Tribe

Photo of the Lumbee River, Robeson County, NC
According to the 1990 Census, 48,444 American Indians in the United States identified their tribe as Lumbee. Over 40,000 of these Indians live in Robeson and surrounding counties in southeastern North Carolina. The Lumbee are the ninth largest tribe in the country and the second largest tribe east of the Mississippi.

The Lumbees take their name from the Lumbee River, known as the Lumber river today, which flows through their homeland. Most of the tribal members live in the valley of the Lumbee River in Robeson, Hoke, and Scotland counties of North Carolina.

The town of Pembroke is known as the center for commerce, education, and culture of the Lumbee tribe. It is located in the west-central part of Robeson County, about 12 miles from Lumberton. According to the 1990 Census, there were 2,241 people living in Pembroke and some 90 percent of the population is Indian.

The present day Lumbee tribe is descended from an Indian community composed largely of Cheraw Indians and related Siouan speaking people who were known to have inhabited the area of what is now Robeson County since European settlers first arrived in the early 1700's. Their presence has been documented by historical accounts and oral traditions. The Lumbees have continued to exist as a tribe despite conditions that threatened to destroy the fabric of the Indian community. Reknown scholars have verified the very long history of the Lumbee as an independent Indian community.

A Cheraw Indian community was first observed on Drowning Creek (Lumber River) in present day Robeson County in 1724. This community has been there ever since. The Lumbees have been recognized by the state of North Carolina as an Indian tribe since 1885. With this recognition, the state provided educational assistance and other services. In 1887, the state established an all Indian teachers training school for the Lumbees. This institution grew into a college, which today has an enrollment of about 3,000, and is now known today as the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. It is one of the sixteen institutions that make up the University of North Carolina system.

Although recognized by the State of North Carolina and recognized as American Indians by the Federal Government, the Lumbees are excluded from most services provided by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Because of their status as a state recognized tribe, the Lumbee receive some federal services and assistance from the Department of Labor, Office of Indian Education, and the Administration for Native Americans.

The Lumbees hold no treaties with the federal government. However, the Congress of the United States in 1956 passed the Lumbee Act which officially recognized the Indians of Robeson and adjoining counties as the Lumbee Indians of North Carolina. This bill contained language that made Lumbees ineligible for financial support and program services administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. This bill was passed at a time of major federal government cutbacks in assistance and services to Indians.

About 90 percent of the enrolled members of the Lumbee tribe live in Robeson, Hoke, and Scotland counties. Large numbers of Lumbees live in the cities of Greensboro, Charlotte and Fayetteville in North Carolina, and in Baltimore, Maryland, and Detroit, Michigan. Like their non- Indian neighbors, the Lumbee own land, pay taxes, and participate actively in local, state, and federal government affairs. Tribal members are active in Indian affairs at the state and national levels.

An Area with Unique Character

The geography and environment of Robeson and surrounding counties of southeastern North Carolina has unique character. This is an area were the coastal plains and the piedmont region of North Carolina meet. The region has much diversity in the land. In this area you find: rich farmlands of the Coastal Plains savanna; many creeks, branches, and swamps; sandy fields and woodlands typical of the dry pine barrens of the "Sandhills"; boggy wetlands of the "Carolina Bays"; and rural communities and small towns which are typical of the rural South.

Winding through this region, the Lumber River flows through Hoke, Scotland, and Robeson county into South Carolina. The rivers, creeks, and swamps of the region provided a good refuge for Indians before the 1800's and were formidable barriers to transportation. These wetlands limited the development of agriculture beyond subsistence farming until the late 1800's when railroads, good highways, and land drainage programs opened the area up to large scale agriculture. Today, this area still has highly productive farm land and agriculture is still a major industry in the region. Much of the wetlands have been drained and tobacco soybeans, corn, and cotton are the main cash crops.

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