Lumbee Recognition

In 1885, the tribe was recognized as Indian by the State of North Carolina. The tribe has sought full federal recognition from the United States Government since 1888. In 1956, Congress passed the Lumbee Act, which recognized the tribe as Indian. However, the Act withheld the full benefits of federal recognition from the tribe. Efforts are currently underway to pass federal legislation that grants full recognition to the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. The following sections detail the Lumbee Tribe's history, origins, religion, language, and education, as well as studies and efforts for federal recognition.

Federal Commissioned Reports


In the last century, there were numerous federally commissioned studies conducted by anthropologists, ethnologists, and historians regarding the Lumbee tribe.


In 1912, legislation was introduced to the Senate to establish a school for the tribe. When the bill was sent to committee, the committee requested information from the Department of the Interior. The Indian Office sent Charles F. Pierce, the Supervisor of Indian Schools, to Robeson County to conduct a study of the tribe. Pierce reported that the state and county were providing funds to educate the 1,976 school-age Indian children. He also stated in his report that "…one would readily class a large majority [of the Lumbee] as being at least three-fourths Indian".


On April 28, 1914, the Senate called for an investigation into the status and conditions of the Indians of Robeson and adjoining counties. The Indian Office sent Special Indian Agent O.M. McPherson to the county to obtain information regarding the educational system of the tribe. In his report, submitted to the Senate on January 4, 1915, he wrote: While these Indians are essentially an agricultural people, I believe them to be as capable of learning the mechanical trades as the average white youth. The foregoing facts suggest the character of the educational institution that should be established for them, in case Congress sees fit to make the necessary appropriation, namely the establishment of an agricultural and mechanical school, in which domestic science shall also be taught.


In 1935, Indian Agent Fred Baker was sent to Robeson County in response to a proposed resettlement project for the Lumbee and an attempt to organize as a tribe under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. Baker reported that: …I find that the sense of racial solidarity is growing stronger and that the members of this tribe are cooperating more and more with each other with the object in view of promoting the mutual benefit of all the members. It is clear to my mind that sooner of later government action will have to be taken in the name of justice and humanity to aid them.


D'Arcy McNickle, from the United States Office of Indian Affairs, came to Robeson County in 1936 to collect affidavits and other data from Lumbee people registering as Indian under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. McNickle stated, "…there are reasons for believing that until comparatively recently some remnant of language still persisted among these people".

Photographs taken for the Carl Seltzer 1936 Report.


In the 1960's, Smithsonian ethnologists Dr. William Sturtevant and Dr. Samuel Stanley describe the Lumbee as "…larger than any other Indian group in the United States except the Navajo", and give a population of 31,380 Lumbee (from North and South Carolina) in 1960.

Who are the Lumbee?


The 55,000 members of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina reside primarily in Robeson, Hoke,Cumberland and Scotland counties. The Lumbee Tribe is the largest tribe in North Carolina, the largest tribe east of the Mississippi River and the ninth largest in the nation. The Lumbee take their name from the Lumbee River which winds its way through Robeson County. Pembroke, North Carolina is the economic, cultural and political center of the tribe.


. The Lumbee people have been recognized by the state of North Carolina since 1885, and at the same time established a separate school system that would benefit tribal members. In 1887, the state established the Croatan Normal Indian School, which is today The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. In 1956 a bill was passed by the United States Congress which recognized the Lumbee as Indian, but denied the tribe full status as a federally recognized Indian tribe. Federal recognition for the tribe is currently being sought through federal legislation. For more information regarding Lumbee Federal Recognition, click here.


Lumbee Way of Life



Mary Norment in 1875 describes a typical Lumbee community as follows:


…[you] leave the public road and take a foot-path leading through the woods, across branches and swamps, until [reaching] a worn fence made of pine rails, inclosing a half cleared patch of land containing three or four acres, in the center of which generally stands the Indian cabin[s]…A little distanse from the cabin will be found in the yard a well of water, or rather a hole dug in the ground … A poor, half-starved fice dog, used for hunting "possums" and "wild varmints" will generally be found inside of the inclosure … Two or three acres cleared are ploughed and planted in corn, potatoes, and rice… The bed is made on the floor (generally a clay floor) … No division in the cabin … The above picture is true of a great majority of the Indians…




Winter slaughtering of animals is a tradition among the Lumbee people.

Adolph Dial and David Eliades describe this tradition in "The Only Land I Know":


For a very long time [Lumbees] have enjoyed hog killings as events which brought neighbors together for a day of work and fun. Pork was such an important staple in the local diet that most of the corn grown prior to World War II was fed to hogs, and most of the hogs were then butchered for home consumption.


Until comparatively recently, farming was the principal occupation among the Lumbee. Adolph Dial and David Eliades describe farm life as follows in "The Only Land I Know":


…[A] daily round of milking, feeding, gathering, and, depending on the time of the year, of planting, cultivating or harvesting…In earlier days a typical forty-acre farmer put about half his land in money crops, such as cotton and tobacco; fifteen acres of corn, two acres for garden vegetables and a potato patch, and three acres for hay. 


Past Efforts





In 1888, the Lumbee Tribe petitioned to Congress for recognition and assistance. The petition sought federal assistance for the tribe and for the tribe's schools. The petition was denied due to a lack of funding by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs.


Draft of the 1888 Petition


A bill to appropriate funds for the education of the tribe's children was introduced in Congress in 1889. Similar bills were introduced in 1910 and 1911.

In 1913, the Department of the Interior sent Charles F. Pierce, Supervisor of Indian Schools, to Robeson County to investigate the tribe in response to legislation introduced in Congress. Pierce opposed federal assistance to the tribe, but acknowledged their Indian origins. (See Education for more)

In 1914, the Secretary of the Interior was directed by the Senate to investigate the tribe and report any findings to Congress. Special Indian Agent O.M. McPherson was appointed to make the trip to Robeson County. His 252-page report covered the Tribe's history and current situation.



More bills were introduced to Congress in 1924, 1932 and 1933.


Finally, in 1956, Congress passed the Lumbee Act, which recognized the tribe as Indian. However, the Act withheld the full benefits of federal recognition from the tribe.


Legislation was introduced to Congress in 1988 to provide full federal recognition to the tribe. The Congressional Research Service reviewed the 1956 Act at the request of the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs and concluded the following:


The 1956 Lumbee legislation clearly did not establish entitlement of the Lumbee Indians for federal services. It also clearly named the group and denominated them as Indians. Without a court decision squarely confronting the issue of whether the 1956 statute confers federal recognition on the Lumbee, there is insufficient documentation to determine if the statute effects federal recognition of the Lumbees. It is, however, a step toward recognition and would be a factor that either the Department of the Interior or a court would have to weigh along with others to determine whether the Lumbees are entitled to federal recognition.

Again in 1989, bills were introduced in both houses of Congress to grant full federal recognition to the tribe, but neither were passed.


In the United States House of Representatives, H.R. 898 was introduced on February 25, 2003, by Congressman Mike McIntyre of North Carolina. On that same day, it was referred to the Committee on House Resources. An executive comment was requested from the Department of the Interior by the committee on March 10, 2003. The Committee on House Resources held a hearing on H.R. 898 on April 1, 2004. In the United States Senate, S. 420 was introduced on February 14, 2003, by Senator Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina. On that same day, it was referred to the Committee on Indian Affairs.


The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a hearing on S.420 on September 17, 2003. On October 29, 2003, the committee held a business meeting to discuss the bill and voted to move the bill out of committee so that it may be voted on by the entire Senate.



The Lumbee are the amalgamation of various Siouan, Algonquian, and Iroquoian speaking tribes.  The earliest document showing Indian communities in the area of Drowning Creek is a map prepared by John Herbert, the commissioner of Indian trade for the Wineau Factory on the Black River, in 1725. Herbert identifies the four Siouan-speaking communities as the Saraws, Pedee, Scavanos, and Wacomas. (Note: Drowning Creek is presently known as the Lumber River, and flows through present-day Robeson County. Many Lumbee people also know it as the Lumbee River.)


In 1754, it was reported that there was an Indian settlement consisting of 50 families located on Drowning Creek. That same year, North Carolina Governor Matthew Rowan proclaimed the county of Anson a "frontier to the Indians". Drowning Creek formed the border between Anson and Bladen counties and the settlement was located on the Anson side of the border. In 1771, a convicted felon by the name of Winsler Driggers was captured "near Drowning Creek, in the Charraw settlement" (South Carolina Gazette October 3, 1771). This mention, along with no evidence that a new settlement was established or the old settlement was abandoned, confirms that the settlement on Drowning Creek in 1754 was a Cheraw settlement.

Tribal Seal

The Lumbee Tribe’s tribal seal (the “Tribal Seal”) is a trademark owned and safeguarded by the Lumbee Tribe.  It is important that we maintain high and uniform standards with respect to our trademark, since the public closely associates the Tribal Seal with the Lumbee Tribe. Accordingly, any commercial use of the Tribal Seal requires advanced permission from the Lumbee Tribe via a trademark license agreement. 


To obtain our permission, please email us at trademarks@lumbeetribe.com and describe your intended use.  We will evaluate your proposal and reach out to you if we wish to negotiate a formal agreement authorizing your use. 


If you come across a third party using the Tribal Seal, and you question whether that use has been approved by the Lumbee Tribe, please email us at trademarks@lumbeetribe.com and identify the potentially unauthorized usage.  Your vigilance and assistance will help us maintain the strength and integrity of the Tribal Seal.

For a description and meaning of the Tribal Seal, please click here.





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