Before I dive into a more specific area of Lumbee culture for the semester, I am finding it helpful to get a bit of an overview of Lumbee political and cultural history. For someone just starting research on the Lumbee people, like myself, Stanley Knick’s article, “Because It Is Right,” is a great place to begin.
The question Knick raises is, “Why should the Lumbee be fully recognized by the federal government?” (80). When I first read the article and really considered his question, I realized I could not get past the titular answer, “Because it is right.” Obviously Knick agrees with this simplified answer, but he also provides several concrete reasons for full federal recognition. His reasoning ultimately boils down to this: there have always been native people in the land of the Lumbee and through centuries of struggle, these people have survived.
In response to the argument that the Lumbee are simply a post-Colonial amalgamation of other peoples or tribes, Knick points to the diversity of influences that existed before colonialism. By doing so, he draws attention away from archeological evidence of post-colonial tribal migration. Knick argues that archeological evidence consistent with typical artifacts of the area was found alongside artifacts from other areas, simply indicating an exchange (but not indicating the “Indians-moved-in-and-settled theory”). In other words, Knick does not want the evidence of non-Lumbee influence to overshadow evidence supporting pre-colonial Lumbee existence. Knick then goes on to explain that other evidence from present-day Robeson County shows signs of Native Americans pre-Columbus and perhaps even dating back to AD 1200! Knick approaches the archeological evidence from a view angled at pre-Columbian time.
Knick himself says, “We seldom arrive at the truth by looking at only a part of the evidence” (85). This is where The Transformation of the Southeastern Indians comes in. It presents its evidence in a manner completely opposite of the way Knick presents “Because It Is Right.”
The essayists in The Transformation of the Southeastern Indians approach the archeological evidence and evidence of tribal migration from a post-Columbian angle. In his article, Knick does not deny the existence of post-Columbian tribal movement, but he goes into little detail on specific migration patterns and reasons for migration. In The Transformation of the Southeastern Indians, Marvin T. Smith explains in detail why native people migrated to or away from certain areas. The European arrival, disease, and the slave trade are three of the most extensively discussed, all obviously occurring post-Columbus.
Smith partially explains a disappearance of Lumbee language by pointing to a coalescence of similar tribal languages during migration (as a result of European influences). Knick also points to European colonization for the disappearance of the native Lumbee language. However, Knick argues that the persistence of the word “Lumbee” itself is evidence enough of an ancestral language—and a reason for full federal recognition.
Before reading the sources my answer to, “Why should the Lumbee be fully recognized by the federal government?,” was “Why not?” After reading the essays, the main question on my mind was: Why is the research so inconsistent?
First, I would like to research more background information on the tribe’s relationship with the federal government and why they are not federally recognized. http://www.lumbee.org/history.html provides a chronological list of Lumbee history and legislation, which seems like a good starting place. Also by searching newspaper databases or government websites I could use keywords like “Lumbee federal recognition” or “Lumbee recognition bill” to learn more background about the argument for and the reasons against recognition. Secondly, is there enough concrete archeological evidence pointing to native people in the Robeson County area pre-Columbus, to overshadow migration patters post-Columbus? Both sources (Knick and Smith) indicate that the area around what is today’s Robeson County is poorly known. Because of this, archeological evidence is overshadowed by historical evidence in today’s case for federal recognition. More research linking historical evidence and archeological evidence must be performed in order to build a strong case for Lumbee existence pre-Columbus in order to debunk arguments against full federal recognition.
To research this topic further, I would begin by using our website’s archeology link. Sources from UNC’s Research Labs of Archeology are linked from this page. The Transformation of the Southeastern Indians has many maps routing tribal migration and these could be studied alongside archeological research in the area. The Robeson County newspaper also contains articles relevant to our study, such as “Study Reveals Indians Inhabited Robeson County 14,000 Years Ago.” Robesonian 7 Nov. 1988: B1.
Another point of interest for me in the articles was the discussion of the Lumbee language, its disappearance, and the persistence of the name “Lumbee.” Glenn Ellen Starr Stilling’s annotated bibliography seems like a great place to start looking for literature on the origins of the name “Lumbee” (this website also has an archeology link).