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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.

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):

Resources in libraries [via WorldCat]

Image Credit:

N.C. Commission of Indian Affairs. "N.C. Tribal and Urban Communities." 2020.

User Tags: 


My uncle (recently passed) said that we have some Native American blood in our family tree... They are from middle to western Tennessee... He said his grandmother is from the Sweetwater tribe, her last name was Sweetwater, etc... I'm unable to recall what he said as it was many years ago, and I was very young... Any information would be appreciated...

My husband passed away and wants all his clothes donated to the Native Americans. He has sent hundreds of pounds of clothes out to South Dakota but I would like to find somewhere close that would maybe pick up the clothes as I am not able to pack anymore. I live in the Charlotte, NC area. Any suggestions?

I can use them.

Dear Ms. Dundore.

Thank you for your note. I think you will find contact information here

that will be helpful.

Thank you.

Mike Millner, Government & Heritage Library

My question is what is the point of waiting for so long to be recognized Federally? My Dad and Mom are both from Sampson County; which makes them be from the Coharie Tribe. They've both retired from jobs and able to start their own business afterwards. I look at them both equally as being successful in America. Our America does not recognize them for being Native Americans federally. Only North Carolina sees them as Native Americans (Indians) . Neither one of them ever ask the government for any help. What is the point, they've already been a success without the Federal Government. An Indian should be recognized by the Federal Government in all tribes. I think our Legislators really do not care what we are. As I said what is the point for the wait. Give them Federal Recognition.

Also, my other question is if my parents were both from Sampson County and considered Cohaire's?? What am I since I was born in Fayetteville, NC. I look at myself as being from the Lumbee Tribe as well the Cohaire Tribe. I do not know you tell me. One of my Aunt's were so concerned we have a Cohaire Tribal card. Which Tribe is the right one for me? lol If hear one more White person in my life time tell me they freed me in places I've worked or lived I'll be sick, omg!

Hi, my mother father was half Native American and his mother was full native in the Sharpsburg , NC area. Could you tell me what tribe she may have been from. Thank you.

Dear Felicia,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and taking time to share your family’s heritage and your question.

What I can show you is a map of the contemporary locations of tribes in the state.  Here is a link to the N.C. Tribal and Urban Communities Map on the website of the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs.  It shows the locations of the tribal presences:

Sharpsburg is in Nash County.  Just to the north are Warren and Halifax Counties, which are the home of the tribal presence for the Haliwa-Saponi Tribe.  Tribal members also live in Nash and Franklin Counties.  Here is also a link to the page on the Commission of Indian Affairs website that has information about the state’s tribes, their contact information, and website links:

If you are doing research about your family, you may also be interested in the North Carolina Government & Heritage Library.  Here is the link to the library’s website:  We are part of the State Library of North Carolina and have collections, resources and services that support family history research.  You can find useful information and resources on our site.  

Please let me know if I can provide any additional help or if you have questions.  I hope this helps!

Best wishes,
Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library

Why do the Lumber get involved in Indian affairs in so many different States? Why are they not liveing and doing business in their own state with their own people?

My husband and I work with native American groups in different States. Over the years we have met a lot of Lumbee from NC. Why are they doing things in so many other States and not there own state with their own people?

There are better opportunities outside of the area. Pembroke is only alive because of the University, UNCP. Thanks to UNCP lots of businesses have moved in. Even at UNCP which is in the heart of Robeson county (home to the vast majority of Lumbees') counted only 15% of Native Americans enrolled. Education is power.

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