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Map of N.C. Tribal and Urban Communities, from the N.C. Commission of Indian Affairs, 2020.American Indian Tribes in North Carolina

Originally published as "The State and Its Tribes"

by Gregory A. Richardson
Reprinted with permission from the Tar Heel Junior Historian, Fall 2005.
Tar Heel Junior Historian Association, NC Museum of History

See also: Native American Settlement; North Carolina's Native Americans (collection page)

North Carolina has the largest American Indian population east of the Mississippi River and the eighth-largest Indian population in the United States. As noted by the 2000 U.S. Census, 99,551 American Indians lived in North Carolina, making up 1.24 percent of the population. This total is for people identifying themselves as American Indian alone. The number is more than 130,000 when including American Indian in combination with other races. The State of North Carolina recognizes eight tribes:

North Carolina also has granted legal status to four organizations representing and providing services for American Indians living in urban areas: Guilford Native American Association (Guilford and surrounding counties), Cumberland County Association for Indian People (Cumberland County), Metrolina Native American Association (Mecklenburg and surrounding counties), and Triangle Native American Society (Wake and surrounding counties).

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is the only North Carolina tribe officially recognized by the federal government. The federal Lumbee Act of 1956 recognized that tribe in name only.

Some may think of treaties involving land as the only example of government relationships with Indians over the years. But the General Assembly’s creation of the N.C. Commission of Indian Affairs in 1971 offers strong evidence that the state has a positive relationship today with its American Indian citizens, tribes, and groups. The relationship between North Carolina and its tribes is well documented in statutes; in rules and regulations that govern state­funded programs; and in rules associated with historic Indian schools, court rulings, and faith organizations. The modern federal government has likewise recognized North Carolina’s rich American Indian heritage and history.

The benefits of state recognition range from being eligible for membership on the Commission of Indian Affairs and for program funding, to securing a rightful place in history. Since 1979 the commission has coordinated procedures for recognition. A committee of members from recognized tribes and groups reviews applications. Tribes and groups must meet certain organizational requirements. Criteria that then may be used to support an application for recognition include traditional North Carolina Indian names; kinship relationships with other recognized tribes; official records that recognize the people as Indian; anthropological or historical accounts tied to the group’s Indian ancestry; documented traditions, customs, legends, and so forth that signify the group’s Indian heritage; and others.

The creation of institutions such as Pembroke Normal School and East Carolina Indian School offers an example of the historic relationship that Indians have had with this state. The reservation lands currently held in trust for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Historic Tuscarora Indian Reservation in Bertie County are examples of formal relationships between Indians and the federal government. Today, because 10,350 American Indian students attend public schools in the county, the Public Schools of Robeson County administers one of the largest Indian education programs in the nation, funded by the U.S. Department of Education. Statewide, 19,416 American Indian students attend public schools. The Haliwa-Saponi tribe has reestablished the old Haliwa Indian School in Warren County, which the author attended through the ninth grade. The new Haliwa-Saponi Tribal School is a charter school, attended by about 150 students. Such arrangements, or ongoing government-to-government relationships, offer examples of modern-day treaties with American Indians.

The situations of Indians differ from state to state. The United States has more than 550 federally recognized tribes and forty to fifty state-recognized ones. In North Carolina and nearby states, most Indians are members of state-recognized tribes and do not live on reservations. The latter is much the case nationwide, according to the 2000 U.S. Census, which found that more than 62 percent of Indians live off reservations. In Virginia there are three reservations, none of which is recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA); BIA does not provide the tribal members services or funding for such things as health care, schools, police, or fire protection. The tribes are not authorized to establish casinos or other gaming enterprises that federal recognition allows as an economic development tool. In North Carolina, only the Eastern Band of Cherokee tribe is eligible to receive BIA services and to operate a casino. In South Carolina, only the Catawba tribe has this status.

American Indians have long been studied and researched, especially by the academic community; however, for many years, little of that information found its way into history books. There are volumes of information on file about American Indians at North Carolina’s college campuses; only recently has much material begun to be included in textbooks used in public or private schools. Indians constantly question the common practice of focusing on Plains Indians in books and in popular media such as movies or television programs. The history and culture of Eastern Woodland Indians often get overlooked.

In North Carolina, before the Civil Rights era, Indians experienced discrimination and different forms of racism. At one time, some were discouraged to even admit that they were Indians. In several counties, separate schools were established for American Indians. These schools, built by volunteers and paid for by the Indian community, were small, mostly of one or two rooms. In some of these same counties, separate dining and other public facilities for the races were common before the 1960s; often, there were no “Indian” facilities—only “white” and “colored.” For a long time, limited employment opportunities existed for American Indians.

Today’s American Indians enjoy more opportunities. Their culture, heritage, and accomplishments are shared more often in and outside their communities. And the North Carolina government continues to increase its support of the many efforts of the state’s first inhabitants.

At the time of the publication of this article, Gregory A. Richardson was the executive director of the N.C. Commission of Indian Affairs. He is a member of the Haliwa-Saponi tribe. He served as one of the conceptual editors for the Fall 2005 issue of Tar Heel Junior Historian.

Educator Resources:

Grade 8: 8 Tribes, 1 State: Native Americans in North Carolina.  North Carolina Civic Education Consortium. http://civics.sites.unc.edu/files/2014/06/NCNativeAmericans.pdf


References and additional resources:

Resources in NCpedia:  Lumbee Indians; Haliwa Indians; Sappony Indians; Meherrin Indians; Occaneechi Indians; Waccamaw Indians; Cherokee Indians.

American Indian Timeline from the NC Museum of History.

Learn NC resources on North Carolina Indian tribes.

Teaching About American Indians in North Carolina (Learn NC): http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/nc-american-indians/cover

Resources in libraries [via WorldCat]

Image Credit:

N.C. Commission of Indian Affairs. "N.C. Tribal and Urban Communities." 2020. https://ncadmin.nc.gov/about-doa/divisions/commission-of-indian-affairs

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Comments

How can I apply for an American Indian Tribe CDIB Card Number in North Carolina? Is a DNA test required?

Thanks

Hi Quentin,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia!

The Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) issues CDIB through the BIA Agency that services the local tribe. 

I suggest visiting the website of the Tribe that you are interested in enrolling in for more information about Tribal enrollment. 

Molly Goldston, NC Government & Heritage Library

My Father was William "Billy" Skipwith named after his father Wm Billy Skipwith. I am trying to find any information on my Native ancestry.

I have been finding arrowheads and other artifacts in Nash County, Wake County, Johnston county and Franklin County. I’ve been doing some research to try to find the names of the tribes from these counties if possible. I haven’t been able to find a whole lot about it

I understand to be a member of the Lumbee tribe requires a blood quantum of 1/4. An with is not strong enough?
I understand the Lumbee are concerned with cultural retention, as I, yet I need to know.
Thank you for your time. DJ

Dear DJ,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and for leaving your comment! NCpedia is an online encyclopedia and this article is about the American Indian Tribes in NC. 

For tribal enrollment requirements, I recommend contacting the Lumbee tribe directly: https://www.lumbeetribe.com/tribal-tips.

Molly Goldston, NC Government & Heritage Library

Hello, I am researching my great great great grandmother, MaryJane Beaver, who was from then Rowan NC, now Iredell County NC. It was reported by several people in my bloodline, that she may have been Native American, and my only photo of her seems to substantiate that. Any help would be appreciated

Hello, 

Thanks for commenting. 

The Yadkin and Keyauwee tribes lived closed to the area you are referring to. The Keyauwee lived east where the corners of present day Randolph, Guilford, Forsyth, and Davidson Counties meet. Here is an article about them. https://www.ncpedia.org/keyauwee-indians

The Yadkin lived north and northwest of area along the yadkin river (no article). You may want to look at county formations help as well. https://statelibrary.ncdcr.gov/research/genealogy-and-family-history/fam...

Thanks, 

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library

Hello. I have always been told that both sides of my family have Indian heritage. I started with Ancestory.com but having difficulty connecting the dots. My mother's side last names are Harris and Norfleet. My father's side is Thompson. Is there a way to find out any tribal information using our last names?

Dear Stephanie,

Thank you for your comment and for visiting NCpedia! I am forwarding your inquiry over to our library's Reference Team so that they can assist you further. A staff member will be reaching out to you via e-mail soon!

-Molly Goldston, Government & Heritage Library

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