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learning among the lumbee

"Resepect and encourage the individual"

by Keri Towery
Reprinted with permission from the Tar Heel Junior Historian, Fall 2003.
Tar Heel Junior Historian Association, NC Museum of History

Native Americans have very different views about learning and teaching than other population groups in the United States. Their children learn to respect individuals and to encourage the talents of each individual. They learn that they have individual purposes within their communities—their family, clan, tribe, and nation.

Native Americans agree that formal education is necessary because if provides skills that are needed to get jobs. But most Native Americans also agree that today’s non-Indian schools take the Indian identity away from their children, and that they separate Native American children from their Indian communities and cultures.

Traditional Native American learning

Many Native Americans believe that modern American schools do not give individuals a sense of purpose in the world: Children are separated by age. They are not respected as unique individuals. They are told what to learn and when to learn it. They are more inclined to believe in one great body of knowledge and skills that everyone should learn.

On the other hand, traditional Native American education presents knowledge as part of a unified whole: It allows children to take control over their own learning and, in fact, makes them responsible for that learning. It allows them to believe that no one person knows everything, and that the knowledge of each person contributes to knowledge of the entire community. Children are taught through informal learning—through example, storytelling, and observation.

In traditional Native American learning, community elders and grandparents are responsible for raising and educating children. They work to discover the gifts and talents of each child and then encourage each child to use those gifts and talents. The Lumbee of Robeson County have traditionally emphasized a strong grandparent-grandchild relationship in order to educate and to assist their young in becoming productive citizens.

Traditional learning and the North Carolina Lumbee

The Lumbee have been farmers in and around Robeson County for over two hundred years. They have their own distinct culture, language, and tradition. Traditionally, most Lumbee children have been raised on family farms by their extended families.

Among the Lumbee, grandparents play a key part in a child's overall development. Grandparents are often responsible for taking care of children while their parents are at work and are therefore able to spend a lot of time with them. This traditional relationship between grandparents and their grandchildren is very important to the tribal society of the Lumbee because it allows elderly members to feel needed, while children are treated with love and acceptance.

The grandparents usually allow children to start making their own decisions when they are between five and ten years old. Lumbee children are also allowed to make their own mistakes. The grandparents do this so that children will learn to take responsibility for their actions early in life.

Today's system of modern American education directly opposes these traditional ways. Lumbee parents prefer for their children to be raised and educated in a close-knit family where they are loved and treated as individuals.

Throughout the last two decades, an awareness of the traditional grandparent-grandchild relationship among the Lumbee has once again become increasingly popular. The Lumbee want to restore that relationship to their society because it allows their children to learn by traditional and informal ways—observing, imitating, and practicing. Those ways allow the children to use the advice of their elders to learn their place in their community; to know the importance of spirituality, service, culture, tradition, and history; and to be adventurous, explorative, and investigative, as well as to accept responsibility for their actions.

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Comments

the truth is because slavery was so bad and freedom once attained so precious. any mulatto family that could pass for indian or white did so as soon as possible. they in droves separated from blacks as soon as they had the chance and did not look back. a large part moved into roberson and surrounding counties in north carolina,others in the mts. of nc,tenn,sc,baltimore,md.louisiana,ohio,ect... get the point racism was so bad that they chose to identified by anything but african black descendants, so it was fabricated indian,portageuse,gypsy,turks,melungeons,italian,spanish.ect...you name it....anything but black because they would not be able to own land.....ect....this is the real sad stories of the lumbees,saponis,ocaneechis,redbones. you name it. it is the truth,perhaps we as a society can finally accept that millions of americans are of partial african descent from early history and accept people for who they are as human.

RE: Anonymous comment from 10/13/2010

Such claims offend the people of my tribe. DNA research may be used to confirm Lumbee heritage.

Genealogical researchers have documented that ancestors of many Lumbee families were part of a tri-racial isolate group of predominately African and European ethnicity, originating among individuals in colonial Virginia. Beginning as early as the mid-1600s, a number of African slaves were freed by their white Virginia masters, forming the nucleus of a free colored community in the colonies. Additions came from the children of white women held as indentured servants who had unions with African men, either newly freed or still in slavery. Records show some of these pairs married or had common-law marriages. The children were considered free persons of color and classified as either Negro or Mullato. A few Indian stragglers also married into these free African-American communities. Although relationships across racial lines were tolerated among the servant class in early colonial days, Virginia officials later moved to outlaw the practice and to make it more difficult for African slaves or their offspring to obtain their liberty. In the mid-1700s, the free colored families of Virginia migrated together, with other European colonists, into the interior of North Carolina. Researcher Paul Heinegg noted numerous families identified as Mulattos, many with characteristically Lumbee names, in the 1768-1770 tax lists for Bladen County, from which Robeson County was formed. The only man listed as Indian did not have a Lumbee name. Heinegg found no nuclear families listed as Indian. In the 1790-1800 censuses,you see the Lumbee are really B/W mulattos that chose a new identity for itself and invents ideas to promote and overstate their Indian heritage.

Thank you for taking the time to share a comment.

In using original records to document the history of the Lumbee, it is important to note that the terminology used to describe mixed-race people was not consistent and can be open to interpretation.  At various times the same individual may have been designated “white,” “mulatto,” or “free person of color.”  The first legal definition of “mulatto” is found in Chapter 4 of the 1705 Virginia laws: “the child of an Indian” and “the child, grand child, or great grand child, of a negro.”  Racial designation on the United States census changed through the decades.  Mixed-race people were recorded at various times as “other free persons,” “free persons of color,” and “mulatto.”  From 1790 through 1950, racial designations were based upon observations of the individual enumerators. The 1870 census was the first one in which “Indian” was a choice.  It also should be noted that early references to “Indian” in government records often meant full-blooded Native Americans or those in designated tribal areas.

-- Cheryl McLean, Government & Heritage Library

 

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Educator Resources on North Carolina American Indians

NC Humanities Council, 2009 - 2011. "Teaching about North Carolina American Indians." Online at Learn NC.

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