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This week’s assigned readings—five essays from The Transformation of the Southeastern Indians and Knick’s “Because it is Right”—mainly address the early post-contact history of Southeastern Indian groups. All six sources rely heavily on archeological information, but the five essays from Transformation and Knick’s piece differ in the historical lenses through which they view this evidence. While the five essayists use archaeology to interpret contemporary European written records, Knick instead frames archaeological evidence in terms of modern debates over Lumbee ancestry and recognition.

That is not to imply, of course, that one approach is more valuable or “correct” than the other. The authors simply have different emphases and agendas. Davis, for example, is interested in explaining the apparent contradictions in the accounts of early white explorers in present North Carolina. Why, he asks, do these accounts differ so greatly in their descriptions of the area’s towns, ethnic groups, and other political/cultural features? (154). His solution, which he supports with current archaeological research, is that explorers’ accounts in fact accurately portray the rapid changes among the Indian groups during the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Due to warfare, depopulation, and other factors, North Carolina’s Indian groups frequently migrated and/or merged to form new political units (143). The other essayists roughly agree on major issues, but each tells a different side of the story. Smith tries to explain the general migration patterns of post-contact Indian groups. He weighs several feasible “push” and “pull” factors. Broadly stated, he argues that European colonization brought sudden depopulation and upset intertribal balances of power. As a result, Indian groups relocated over long distances, sometimes to attractive, newly-emptied areas (3-7). Kelton picks up one of Smith’s factors—disease—and treats it in greater depth. Specifically, he focuses on the great regional smallpox outbreak that occurred between about 1690 and 1700. After weighing several epidemiological issues, he concludes that the 1690s outbreak was the first major smallpox epidemic in the area. He then links the timing of the outbreak with the growing size of the Euro and African American population and its increased contact with Native peoples (35-36). While Kelton approaches the subject from a scientific perspective, the other two authors use military-political and economic theories to explain tribal migration and coalescence patterns. Rountree posits that Jamestown’s increasing aggression and intertribal unrest in the Mid-Atlantic pushed many indigenous groups through Virginia and into present North Carolina (72-75). Hahn, for his part, argues chiefly that trade relationships between Creeks and English colonists altered the regional balance of power and led to conflicts such as the Yemasee war (80-82).

To say that Knick’s piece contradicts the five essays in Transformation would be an exaggeration. But his purpose—to use documentary and archaeological evidence to promote Lumbee recognition—does lead him to make a different argument. Whereas the essayists heavily emphasize indigenous migration patterns, Knick downplays its importance. He acknowledges that some migration into the Robeson County took place, but he takes great care to discount what he terms “the ‘Indians-moved-in-and-settled’ theory” (82). To further his point, he uses archaeological evidence to argue that Indians have continuously inhabited the area since the 13th century (83). For Knick, this evidence is important in contradicting claims that Lumbees are not “real” Indians or that they are a product of the 20th century. Knick also differs in the documentary evidence he cites. Unlike the essayists, who are interested in explaining 17th and 18th century written records, Knick uses more recent documents to legitimize Lumbees’ tribal identity. To prove that the name “Lumbee” has a long history, for example, he cites two late 19th century letters and a 1941 Pembroke State yearbook (84-85).  Despite these differences in source material and emphasis, Knick broadly agrees with the other authors on the matter of coalescence. Yet for Knick, coalescence is not simply an interesting demographic/political trend. It is instead an important part of his explanation of why Lumbees speak English and lack many stereotypically Indian cultural traits (86-87).

Knick’s argument about the age of the Lumbee name intrigued me, and it made me realize how little I know about the ’56 recognition process. In particular, I am curious as to whether contemporary Lumbees argued for the “authenticity” of the Lumbee name before Congress. Moreover, I am interested in what place names can tell us about Indian groups—from the Transformation texts, I got a clear sense that the Southeastern landscape is littered with tribal place names. But I would like to know more about those river names that resemble “ee”—the Santee, Wateree, Congaree, etc. I know that these rivers are supposedly named after Siouan-speaking tribes, but I wonder if anyone knows more about when Europeans adopted those names, the naming process, etc.  Also, what about the Tuscaroras? I am vaguely aware that many Robeson County Indians self-identify as Tuscarora, yet one of the essays mentioned that the group left to join the northern Iroquois after the Tuscarora War. How well documented is this migration? Were remnants left behind in North Carolina? And most importantly, what is the significance of the Tuscarora label, and what tensions exist between the Lumbee and Tuscarora communities?

To find out more about the role of the Lumbee name in the recognition process, I would most likely go straight to primary documents. In his bibliography, Knick lists the original petition. This document is not listed in UNC’s online catalog, but I would bet that the circulation desk could pull it out of government documents for me. The other questions I raised deal with the less recent past, and I suspect primary documentation is poor or nonexistent. In order to get the lay of the land, I would turn to secondary sources. If I were researching Siouan river names, I would probably start with James H. Merrell’s history of early post-contact Catawbas and “their neighbors.” I found this book through the online catalog. Catawba Indians are ethnolinguistically similar to the Wateree, Santee, et al, but they are better documented. Also, the title of Merrell’s book suggests that it could cover other Siouan-speaking tribes.  Finally, to address the Tuscarora issue, Sider’s Living Indian Histories seems like a decent place to start.


Pierce et al., “Lumbee Federal Recognition Petition.”

Merrell, James H.. The Indians’ New World : Catawbas and their Neighbors from European Contact through the Era of Removal. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989.

Sider, Gerald M.  Living Indian Histories: Lumbee and Tuscarora people in North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

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