Published on July 10, 2014 by Amy
Language: The language most commonly referred to as ‘Lumbee’ was an Algonkian language also known as Croatan or Pamlico, but the ancestors of the modern-day Lumbee Indians also included speakers of several other languages, including Tuscarora, Catawba, Cheraw, and other Iroquoian and Siouan languages little is known about today. English was used extensively among the Lumbee tribe, both as a practical lingua franca and also as a first language (due to intermarriage with English speakers), and the original Lumbee languages fell into disuse and finally extinction. The unique Lumbee dialect of English spoken by their descendents, known as “Lumbee English,” is still in use today.
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People: The Lumbee Indians have been denied federal status as an Indian nation because of their high degree of mixed blood–their ancestors include Cheraw, Tuscarora, and Croatan Indians, many African-Americans (the tribe was known for sheltering runaway slaves), and, in all likelihood, members of the original “lost” colony of Roanoke. The Lumbees are recognized by the state of North Carolina if not the federal government, and they are 40,000 people strong, making them one of the largest Native American tribes remaining in the eastern US.
History: The Croatan (or Croatoan) Indians first made history when the Roanoke colony left their name carved on a tree. This supposedly mysterious carving has inspired many science-fiction books and conspiracy theories since that time, but in fact it was the name of an island belonging to some friendly Indians, and the colonists probably simply moved in with them when their food supplies ran low. Lumbee historian Adolph Dial made the case that the Croatans and their English guests were among the ancestors of today’s Lumbee Indians, who resurfaced some 50 years later speaking English, practicing Christianity, and sporting the same last names many of the colonists had brought with them. Though they are lesser-known to history texts, there were also many Iroquoian and Siouan tribes inhabiting the Carolinas; however, as happened in most of the east coast, the tribes merged together after heavy population losses, and none of their languages have survived. Their descendants, however, still thrive. The Lumbee today are by all accounts a mixed-race people, so mixed-race that they were not even sent to Oklahoma with the other Native Americans of North Carolina in the 1820′s and 30′s. North Carolina was not the most pleasant place to live in the 19th century if your skin was dark, though, and increasing violence against Lumbees and free mulattos set the stage for the Lumbee folk hero Henry Berry Lowrie in the 1860′s. Called the “Indian Robin Hood” by some, Lowrie, enraged by the assault and murder of his family, spent the next decade wreaking vigilante justice on those who harassed Indians and stealing supplies to give to the disenfranchised. He was never caught, and his legend–brave, proud, dangerous when provoked, and above all else free–remains a powerful tribal metaphor.