A special nomination of the Bird in Flight Prize with a winner selected by readers
Maria Sturm, Germany
„You don‘t look Native to me“ is a quote and the title of a work, that shows excerpts from the lives of young Native Americans from around Pembroke, where 89% of the city’s population identifies as Native American. The town is the tribal seat of the Lumbee Indian Tribe of North Carolina, the largest state-recognized Native American tribe east of the Mississippi River, which means they are federally unrecognized and therefore have no reservation nor any monetary benefits.
I am tracing their ways of self-representation, transformed through history, questions of identity with which they are confronted on a daily basis and their reawakening pride in being Native.
My work engages an unfamiliar mix of concepts: a tribe whose members are ignored by the outside world, who do not wear their otherness on their physique, but who are firm in their identity. I am investigating what happens when social and institutional structures break down and people are forced to rely on their Own Resources.
Daniel in front of his parents house in St. Pauls. Daniel identifies as Lumbee.
Pre-Colonization there were several tribes inhabiting the same area, the Cheraw, the Tuscarora, the Haliwa-Saponi, the Cherokees to name a few. You can find three native language families: Algonquian, Siouan and Iroquois, which suggest migration due to wars, climate change etc. All these tribes weren‘t recognized.
Landon and Kassidy
In an attempt to gain federal recognition the Lumbee name was voted for in 1952 (and passed legislation in 1953) to unite all tribes living in and around Robeson County. The idea was to form a conglomerate, so the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) wouldn‘t ignore such a large group of people in their petition for recognition.
Visiting Madas and Chris
Chris (Lumbee) is married to Madas (Wampanoag). Madas‘ older brother Cheenulka and some of his friends from Rhode Island and Massachusetts are hanging out in front of their house in Pembroke after they all returned from the Porch Creek Powwow in Alabama. Many Natives compete in dancing or drumming competitions also as a possibility to earn money.
Robeson County has a population of 134,576 people with a median age of 35.6 and a median household income of $31,298.
Pembroke in Robeson County is the economic, cultural and political center of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, which sought full federal recognition from the United States Government since 1888. It is the largest tribe in North Carolina, the largest tribe East of the Mississippi River, and the ninth-largest in the nation.
Robeson county is the poorest and most violent county in North Carolina. Between the 90s and the 2000s most of the industry had left (e.g. Converse in Lumber
Robert looking at himself
Traditionally the people of Robeson County were farmers, they produced tobacco for example, but with globalization it became cheaper to produce tobacco in China and local farmers couldn‘t compete with the price. The rest of the industry has left too, The Converse plant was the largest private employer, with 3000 employees, mainly Lumbee worked at the plant which produced the Chuck Taylor All-Star until it closed in 2001.
Manny and Courtney are sitting in Manny's car in front of his uncle Nakoma's house, where Manny is living.
Nakoma started a Culture Class in Cumberland County and Manny is attending regularly playing the drums and singing, dancing and teaching as well.
The culture classes have gained a lot of growth over the past two years. It‘s dangerous outside and there‘s not much else to do besides going to church, so the teenagers are embracing the new infrastructure the culture class is offering them.
Social media plays a big role in native identity. Hashtags like #nativestrong are very popular. The Lumbee pride is stemming from the Henry Berry Lowery Story. It is said that Henry Berry was hiding in the swamps when he led the resistance in North Carolina during the American Civil War. He is remembered as a Robin Hood figure, especially for the Lumbee, who consider him one of their tribe and a pioneer in the fight for their civil rights, personal freedom and tribal self-determination.
“In the Southeast we’re a matrilineal society. That means we put our women in front of everything, they’re our life-givers. Especially in our Native society, you see displacement, and that‘s how things have just changed. That’s why this is a powerful picture, because here in the Southeast we always honored and put our women in a high place. You have to sit back for a second and say “man how did things get so messed up?” Kaya Littleturtle says this while flipping through photos I’ve taken.
Manny at the Running Waters Pow Wow in Fayetteville, NC. He identifies as Lumbee. He‘s a fancy dancer and Dancing with his bandana covering half his face like this.
His uncle Nakoma started a Culture Class.
There are more Culture Classes popping up now, which is hopeful to see because tribes in the Southeast who have been in contact with Europeans first have lost a lot of their history, not only through assimilation but also through fear, living in the Jim Crow South.
This is Adrian holding my hand
For some of the people all they know of their Native identity goes back to popcultural symbols, because that's all the people have learned, if they hadn‘t the strength to teach themselves. Robeson county has a very high rate of food insecurity for example, if you don‘t know where you get your next meal from, there‘s no space for research about your heritage.
Adrian was wearing his indian chief ring with pride. His identity actually manifests in symbols like this.
Kearsey as a vampire (Tuscarora Nation of North Carolina)
The Tuscarora officially fall under the umbrella of the Lumbee. Many Tuscarora don’t identify with the Lumbee name. Many Tribes, recognized or unrecognized have prejudices against the Lumbee. They say for example the Lumbee have lost their history and they don't have a very strict enrollment policy (in comparison to the Tuscarora, where you'd have to proof 1/4 of bloodline being Native in order to be enrolled).
Patricia, Mescal and Frankie in front of their house in Pembroke.
Mescal is 19, she has two daughters Kassidy (4) and Frankie, who‘s just a few months old. Patricia (15) is Mescal's cousin.
Mescal's father Reggie is leading the Culture Class in town, led by The Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. Their mission is to inspire youth in Indian Country, through cultural enlightenment, to realize their full potential regardless of their circumstances and to become caring, responsible tribal members.