2023 Topical Reporting: Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Identity, Small Newsroom finalist

Who’s Your People?

About the Project

Back before The Assembly even launched, we approached Julian Brave NoiseCat about writing something for us on the Lumbee. NoiseCat’s work blends both journalism and perspective, connecting deep personal grounding on issues with reporting.

He’s someone we wanted writing for us – though he was raised far from N.C., in Oakland, California. As a member of the Canim Lake Band Tsq’escen and a descendant of the Lil’Wat Nation of Mount Currie, we thought he’d bring an interesting perspective to covering how the Lumbee’s pursuit of federal tribal recognition fits in the national perspective.

You’ll see why we sought him out when you read the story. It’s at once lyrical, dynamic, and honest, bringing to light the people as well as the historic and policy contexts. As he writes:

“The Lumbee identified themselves as a ‘remnant’ of the lost colony in their first petition for federal recognition as an Indian tribe in 1915. They say Virginia Dare’s grave lies in their swamps.

But few are willing to see Native people as the living descendants of Roanoke, to believe what a growing number of archaeologists and historians agree is the most likely fate of the colony: that it joined its Algonquin neighbors and assimilated into Indigenous society and culture.

In the American conceptualization of race and past, assimilation is unidirectional with Indians becoming less and less Indian over time. In the United States, “Indian blood” is regulated by the federal government and in some cases by tribes who measure the purity of our race in fractions down to the 32nd.

The Lumbee have long broken this mold. They are a mixed community descended in part from non-Indigenous peoples who chose to reverse-assimilate, self-determine, and self-identify as Indian across centuries. The same racial pathology that says the first white colonists could not, and would not, have assimilated into Indigenous society prevents the Lumbee from being recognized as Native.”