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Because It Is Right
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Because It Is Right

There are approximately fifty-six thousand enrolled members of the Lumbee nation, most of them living in Robeson and the adjacent counties in southeastern North Carolina. They are the largest Indian tribe east of the Mississippi River. They have been officially recognized by the state of North Carolina since 1885 and participate at the state level in many ways, including in the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs. They also participate at the national level in many ways, including in the National Congress of American Indians and the National Indian Education Association. Although the United States Congress recognized the Lumbee as Indian people in 1956, they were denied full federal benefits. The federal relationship with the Lumbee was effectively recognized and terminated by the same act of Congress.

No doubt there are political reasons for this, having to do with the government's policy, current at that time, of seeking to terminate its relationship with Indian nations. And no doubt there are also political reasons why the Lumbee have not yet been fully recognized, despite their many efforts and the mountain of documentation they have brought forth. But it is not my intention in this paper to consider the politics of the matter, because I believe that the anthropological and historical elements of the Lumbee story are vastly more important.

Why should the Lumbee be fully recognized by the federal government? There are several possible answers to this question, based on various lines of evidence and reasoning. Here I want to reflect on an anthropological and historical perspective that points to the interpretation that the Lumbee should be afforded full recognition by the federal government. [End Page 80]

There are many things about the past that we can never know. There are archaeological sites we will never recover. There are elements of history and culture that are lost to us in the present because of unwitting neglect, unavoidable preliteracy, massive epidemics, colonial warfare, and many other reasons. But there are things we can, and do, know.

The archaeological record in the land of the Lumbee appears to be a very rich record indeed, although it has just begun to be read. Judging from the series of projectile point types from Clovis-like through Clarksville found in sites in Robeson County, Native American occupation of the county seems to extend back as far into the past as anywhere else in North Carolina.1 There are no obvious gaps in the artifact collection from Paleo-Indian times through early, middle, and late Archaic, early, middle, and late Woodland times, and into the historic period. Indian people have always been here.

Review of this archaeological record reveals several important things in addition to the apparently consistent occupation. One of these is the presence of diverse cultural influences in prehistory. This is especially important given that arguments against Lumbee recognition have sometimes been based on the assertion that the Lumbee represent a post-Columbian amalgamation of Indian people from various sources including Siouan, Algonkian, and Iroquoian people. However, archaeological evidence collected here suggests that diverse cultural influences have been fairly common for a much longer time than these few hundred years of United States history.

Beginning in the middle Archaic period between six and eight thousand years ago relatively unusual artifacts such as an Eva-like basal-notched projectile point began to appear among the more predictable local artifact assemblages. The presence of stone and, later, ceramic artifacts suggests cultural exchange from elsewhere continued through the archaeological record. Artifacts more commonly found in Florida, Tennessee, and Virginia, on the outer Coastal Plain as well as in the Piedmont and the mountains, have been found here alongside more typical artifacts in Robeson County, all of which suggests that the region has for thousands of years been a zone of cultural interaction.2

We should not, therefore, be surprised to find that Native American people living here at the time of European contact would be joined by remnants of other tribes seeking to avoid the onslaught of European culture and epidemic diseases. But the archaeological record indicates that [End Page 81] there were already indigenous people living in the...