The Lumbees and the Road to Recognition

A Lumbee family outside their Robeson County home, circa 1895-1915.

A Lumbee family outside their Robeson County home, circa
1895-1915. Image from the N.C. Museum of History

On February 10, 1885, the Indians now known as Lumbees were legally recognized by the General Assembly. The act designated the tribe as Croatan, which reflected the idea from the time that the group was descended from the settlers of the “Lost Colony.”

For many years the government pushed the Indians of the Robeson County region to declare themselves either white or African American, but for the Indians, state recognition grew critical when the schools became racially segregated in the 1870s. In order for their children to attend public schools, the Indians had to deny their heritage. There were no public schools for Indians.

State recognition led the county to establish a three-part school system with schools at all levels for the Indians. In 1887, the legislature also established the Croatan Normal School to educate Indian teachers.  The school is now known as the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

Struggling with its own identity and with federal recognition, the tribe adopted a number of names over the years, finally settling on Lumbee.  The name comes from the Lumber River, which winds its way through the Indians’ traditional homeland.

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