Press Release--Dr. Woods ' Vision for Lumbee People Will Carry On
For Immediate Release
Dr. Ruth Dial Woods’ Vision for the Lumbee People Will Carry Forward for Generations
Pembroke, NC (June 16, 2023) - Dr. Ruth Dial Woods was laid to rest on Thursday. Dr. Woods lived her life in the belief of the importance of service to community and her Lumbee People. As a lifelong educator and activist, Dr. Woods wore many hats, but her most impactful role may have been improving the future for our next generation. Her time served as the Indian Education Director for the Public Schools of Robeson County was tremendous. It was under her leadership that the Indian Education Program began to flourish across the entire county and it is still impacting the lives of our Native students today. She is seen as the architect of Indian Education. Ruth Locklear, former Tribal Enrollment Director, said Dr. Woods put a great emphasis on the importance of culture and she hosted one of the first Powwows in Robeson County in the 1970’s. Locklear first began working with Dr. Woods in 1971. “Under her administration, she developed an Indian Education Curriculum for the public schools,” said Locklear. “Her Indian Education Program became a model for other tribes throughout the nation. She balanced education and culture.” Locklear said one of Dr. Woods' favorite expressions encompassed her view. That saying was, "You have to know where you came from, to know where you are going.” Dr. Woods also helped create the N.C. Commission of Indian Affairs. She worked with all the tribes across the state of N.C.
During a Southern Oral History Program interview , Dr. Woods stated she hoped someone would pick up her message and be inspired to make life better for the children and the grandchildren that follow all of us. "I used to wonder when my grandmother kept saying that the Bible said that you were promised only four score or three score and ten and I got real upset when she was talking about how she didn't have much time left,” said Woods. “And now I realize that sixty or seventy years is a short span of time to see change if you're really interested in seeing change." Dr. Woods didn’t let the days waste away, but worked to make them count.
During her early years as an educator, Dr. Woods must have driven by the property that would become the Lumbee Tribal Housing Complex hundreds of times. No one could know that she would be the catalyst to build the foundation for so many dreams. Dr. Woods became the first Lumbee Tribal Administrator in 2001. She wasted no time to set the wheels in motion. With NAHASDA funds, she negotiated the sale of the land where the Lumbee Tribal Housing Complex would be built and also the property for Arrow Point and Cheraw Acres Subdivisions. Tammy Maynor, Lumbee Tribe Director of Governmental Affairs, had just joined the Lumbee Tribe staff. In 2002,
Dr. Woods and Maynor negotiated the first tracts of land for the first subdivision and where the first homes would be built. Maynor said the process was slow and the purchases of the first land were scattered on various tracts of land. “The purpose was to provide families with affordable homes and she was instrumental in making that happen,” said Maynor. “Here we are in 2023 and these subdivisions are full of families and that was her dream.”
The tract for the Tribal Housing Complex was originally farmland. Today, many people refer to the building as the “Turtle Building.” Families come from around the globe to reconnect with their Lumbee Tribal family. For some, that “Turtle Building” has become a beacon of hope. We see the look on the faces of grandparents and parents as they come in with children who have moved away and return home to enroll and update. It is a place where families take photos and beam with pride when they receive their Lumbee Enrollment Citizenship Cards. Families come daily to enroll their children, which connects them to their Lumbee Ancestors. Those same children will come back to the “Turtle Building” to begin the first steps toward their future by applying for college scholarships, college housing vouchers and often many will apply for down payments or construction loans to build their first homes.
Dr. Woods stated that she liked to think of herself as the turtle, as turtles are hard-shelled and stick their necks out and take risk. “I collect turtles and I sort of keep them around me to remind me that you have to continue being hard-shelled and you have to continue taking risk if you are, indeed, committed to making a difference.”
After leaving as the Lumbee Tribe Administrator, Dr. Woods continued her charge to help those less fortunate in the community. It is said that she knew the name of every homeless person in her community. Her mission was that no one would go hungry. Through founding “Sacred Pathways,” a non-profit organization, she worked to make sure people always had something to eat and clothes to stay warm.
Dr. Woods' colleagues, staff from the school system and the tribal organizations continue to describe her as a great leader, role model and someone who inspired her people. The Lumbee Tribe is a grateful nation for a leader who could have served in any office in the United States but chose to stand and fight in her Lumbee Tribal Territory. Dr. Woods legacy lives on for every citizen who walks through the "Turtle building", for those families living in our Lumbee Tribal Community and for every child impacted by Indian Education nationwide.
Oral History Interview with Ruth Dial Woods, June 12, 1992. Interview L-0078. Southern Oral History Program Collection, UNC.
To read more about Dr. Ruth Dial Woods or see the full interview from 1992 visit https://docsouth.unc.edu/sohp/L-0078/menu.html