Skip to main content
 

In Malinda Maynor Lowerys’ new book Race, Identity, and the Making of a Nation: Lumbee Indians in the Jim Crow South, she examines how the Indians of Robeson County (Lumbee and Tuscarora today) react both within the community and with “outsiders” while crafting identity as a People, a race, a tribe, and a nation. These terms overlap and show how Lumbee identity evolves in relation to non-Indians (whites held the power in Robeson County politics), the Office of Indian Affairs (OIA) which became the BIA, and within the tribe itself. Maynor Lowery discusses how one of the defining characteristics of being Lumbee and Tuscarora is discord within the community. Indians in Robeson County firmly identify as a People, so the different tribal names put upon them by outsiders or chosen by the Indians themselves do not contradict their Indian claim as an Indian People of Robeson County.

Maynor Lowery describes kinship and place as the foundational layer of Indian Identity in Robeson County. Since the 1880s, people outside of the North Carolina Indian community have tried to make Indians in Robeson County fit into an inaccurate, confined box. However, the box itself undermines Indian identity in Robeson County. Maynor Lowery uses her position as both an insider and outsider to describe what she and other community members feel represents their heritage, identity and place within Native America. Maynor Lowery does this by a methodology called autoethnography. Authoethnography allows Maynor Lowery to situate herself as a Lumbee in the text, and this perspective is lacking in Lumbee research. Maynor Lowery argues that it is important to include the Lumbee way of seeing in academic scholarship in order to really understand how Lumbee identity formation and contestation can exist side by side. Otherwise, if someone approaches Lumbee scholarship without this understanding, it makes no sense how an Indian People can have five different names in about 130 years. Once one realizes that being Indian in Robeson County almost automatically includes disagreement and contestation, it makes sense that Indians do not have a uniform agreement on tribal origins.

Maynor Lowery uses coalescence to explain why Indians in Robeson County disagree about historical origins. The People in Robeson County today descend from numerous tribal groups: from 3 linguistic groups—Iroquoian, Siouan, and Algonkian, and 10 tribes, including Algonkian, Cheraw, Waccamaw, Peedee, Tuscarora, Saponi, Hatteras, Yeopim, Potoskite, Nansemond and the Weanoke. This vast diversity of peoples coming together meant that Indians used English as a common language. Then, kinship became the primary way to measure interrelation. Tribal names were not important compared to surnames. The main Indian surnames in 18th Century Robeson County include Chavis, Locklear, Lowry, Brooks and Oxendine. Having these and other related Indian surnames indicated that a person or a family belonged to the larger Indian community. Thus, Maynor Lowery argues that tribe and race overlap, because both signifiers used kinship as the primary unit of analysis.


This kinship system made sense to Lumbees, but it did not fit within the Office of Indian Affairs’ method of quantifying Indianness—anthropometry, or the study of the geometry of the human body. Although now discredited, anthropometry was considered to be a scientific study that proved Indian blood quantum based on stereotypical racial factors such as hair and skin color, facial features, hair texture and other physical measurements. In the 1930s, anthropologists from the OIA led by Carl Seltzer came to Robeson County to determine what people possessed half or more Indian blood using anthropometry. This study was a disaster, because they met with several hundred and only determined that 22 were half or more Indian. Seltzer only looked at phenotype, ignoring cultural factors, and concluded that the Indians in Robeson County in fact did not have a clear understanding of what it meant to be Indian. With regard to my research topic, these anthropologists completely ignored any traditional healing practices that undoubtedly would have proven an Indian identity that was different from surrounding black and white communities. Unfortunately, they did not take the time to understand what it meant to be a Robeson County Indian based on a variety of factors, instead trying to fit the people into a narrow box of Indianness based on physical appearance.

For questions, I am interested in how traditional healing practices may or may not vary depending on what tribal origin people claim. For instance, some people claim a Cheraw identity while others insist they descend from Indians that always lived in the Robeson County area. Because there were 3 linguistic groups and up to 10 tribal groups of ancestry, there probably was a diversity of healing practices being brought to Robeson County during the 18th Century coalescence. Have different practices survived? Are they identified as tribally specific? I know that practices vary by family. Do families try to align with particular tribal groups of origin?

Sources
To research these questions, I would need to look at historical coalescence and determine if communities today align with historical migration. Then, I would compare healing practices within today’s communities. I remember reading that some healing practices are common among all communities, especially when they involve plants or products that are readily available. However, other remedies are specific to families and communities. Some possible sources include:
1) Migration Patterns of Coastal NC Indians (paper with some historical documents and maps included on the website)
http://www.lost-colony.com/migrationpatterns.html
2) Rountree, Helen and Davidson: Eastern Shore Indians of Virginia and Maryland. 1997, The University Press of Virginia
3) I could look at several sources here: http://linux.library.appstate.edu/lumbee/16/index.html

Comments are closed.