LETTER: Tribal member shares thoughts on Lumbees with Senator

by May 8, 2017OPINIONS0 comments


The following letter was sent to Senator Burr expressing my concern with his support of the Lumbee Recognition Act. This is my opinion but one that I believe will truly affect Native America as a whole. Please understand amongst our own internal struggles and conflicts, that there are issues going on in our state that can also affect our tribe just as gravely. Please do not be silent to these problems as these are issues that should not be taken lightly.


Dear Senator Richard Burr,

I am member of the federally recognized tribe in North Carolina, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. As a member of the EBCI, I have the opportunity of being raised in the culture and traditions of my ancestors. I take great pride in knowing who I am as a Cherokee individual. The Cherokee have deep roots in this area’s history. Tragically we were subjugated to generations of colonization, assimilation, acculturation and Americanization. As the Cherokee have done for those generations, we have persevered and continue to survive in our homeland. We might have a fraction of land and power but we are an important part of not only North Carolina history but America’s history. History is what I am writing you about today.

As aforementioned, the Cherokee have been a fixture in this area and many places still bare former Cherokee town names or words. The Cherokee of course were not alone in this area as diverse tribes stretched from our mountains to the coast. Unfortunately because of vulnerability to new diseases and destruction and removal of homelands; it devastated many tribes. Many tribes went extinct. Those that remained had to endure racial and social injustices. The Cherokee ultimately survived and are striving today. There were 1200 Cherokee that either owned private reservations or hid in the mountains to avoid the notorious Trail of Tears. These individuals laid the foundation and are ancestors for many of the 16000 members that make up the EBCI today.

This history is what instills the pride I have being Cherokee yet some believe the benefits and opportunities we have and receive are privileged or unwarranted. Some also see these services as a means to bolster their own beliefs and try to get a “piece of the pie.” On Jan. 7, 2015 you introduced the Lumbee Recognition Act. Then on May 4, 2016 the bill was introduced to both houses. The bill is another attempt to recognize the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. The Bill asks that they receive the full benefits bestowed upon 567 other federally recognized tribes in America. The Bill however is an attempt to circumvent the recognition process through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The BIA has set requirements for tribes to meet when in consideration for recognition.

The Lumbee have tried several times in the past to garner federal recognition but such attempts have failed to garner actions. In fact they garnered their initial recognition status only by claiming they were the Cherokee of Roberson County. A claim later dismissed and the Lumbee have continued to attach themselves to many extinct and former tribes of the Carolinas. They have adapted and copied customs from recognized tribes in the Southeast and past them off as Lumbee. Culture and traditions are not “one-size-fits-all” notions. Some of these traditions are unique to certain people and for the Lumbee to pass them off as original is disgraceful to those who have sacrificed centuries of hardship to preserve.

I urge you Senator, to look into their actual history. This bill is a way for them to be recognized by outsiders and not by the actual people who are educated in the process and help out the generations of Natives recovering from generations of trauma. Their history was gone until they found it beneficial and relevant for them. I thank you for taking time to listen to my concerns and I will give you an open invitation to come to the motherland of the Cherokee. Come and enjoy the scenery of our ancestors and the home we still call home.


Jakeli Swimmer