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Lumbee Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Lumbees for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our main Lumbee website for in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Lumbee pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages. Photographs are the property of the sources we have credited.

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    Lumbee Tribe

How do you pronounce "Lumbee?" What does it mean?
Lumbee is pronounced LUM-bee ("lum" rhymes with "gum,") and it comes from the Lumber River, which runs through the Lumbee homeland. Many people believe that the river's name comes from a Carolina Algonquian language, and may have meant "dark water" (umpe meant "water" in the Pamlico dialect.) Others believe that it just came from the English word "lumber." The Lumbees are sometimes also known as the Croatan (CROW-uh-tan) or Cheraw (CHAIR-aw) Indians, after two of the bands they trace their ancestry to.

Where do the Lumbees live? How is the Lumbee tribe organized?
The Lumbees are original residents of North Carolina, especially Robeson County. Most Lumbee Indians still live there today. The Lumbee tribe owns their own land and has a strong community, but they are not federally recognized. That means the Lumbees do not have a reservation or sovereignty rights like other Indian tribes. The Lumbee tribe is governed by a tribal council and chairman, but this leadership is unofficial as far as the US government is concerned. Many Lumbee people are dissatisfied with this situation and are working to change it.

Who are the Lumbees, anyway? Where did they come from?
The Lumbee tribe has mixed origins. Coastal North Carolina was originally the home of Algonquian Indian bands (Pamlico, Hatteras, or Croatan,) Siouan Indian bands (Cheraw and Catawba,) and Tuscarora groups. But many Indians of the east coast died from smallpox and other European diseases after colonists first arrived. So the survivors merged together as best they could, and many original tribal distinctions were lost. The Lumbee people today trace their origins to Tuscarora, Siouan, and Algonquian Indians. Lumbee ancestors also intermarried with white, black, and Cherokee people--including, possibly, the 'lost' colony of Roanoke, who the Croatan Indians may have adopted.

Did the Lost Colony of Roanoke really join the Croatoan Indians?
Nobody knows for sure, but many Indians believe so. As you probably know from your schoolbooks, the Roanoke colony disappeared during a difficult winter, leaving behind the word Croatoan carved into a tree. When other Englishmen found it there, they recognized "Croatoan" as the homeland of some friendly Indians. Since there was no distress symbol carved on the tree, they assumed the Roanoke colony went to the Croatans for help. After that, English historians never mention them again. However, English historians did mention a group of North Carolina Indians who spoke English fluently, practiced Christianity, and called themselves the Croatan Indians. There were also twenty or thirty English surnames in the Croatan tribe that existed in the original Roanoke colony. This could be a coincidence, but many Indians have passed down the story of the Croatoans adopting the Roanoake survivors.

What language do the Lumbees speak?
Lumbee Indians all speak English and have spoken English for a very long time. In the past, their ancestors spoke Carolina Algonquian, Carolina Siouan, and/or Iroquoian languages like Tuscarora. Usually when people talk about the "Lumbee language" they mean the Algonquian language (also known as Pamlico or Croatan,) because we barely have any records left from the Siouan language. Here is a short glossary of original Lumbee words from the Carolina Algonquian language.

What was Lumbee culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here is a link to the Lumbee tribe's homepage, where you can learn about the Lumbee people past and present.

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What was Lumbee clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
We don't know exactly what the Lumbee Indians originally wore, because they switched to European clothing so early in their history. The Croatans wore a beaded headband with a feather or two in it, like the Powhatan people. The Cheraws probably went bare-headed. Lumbee women probably all wore knee-length skirts and Lumbee men probably all wore breechcloths. The Lumbees definitely wore moccasins on their feet. And Lumbee men and women both wore tattoos on their bodies. Here are some photos and links about Native Indian clothing in general.

Today, Lumbee people wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear feathers in their hair on special occasions like a dance.

What was Lumbee food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Lumbees were farming people. They harvested corn, squash, beans, and tobacco. Lumbee Indians also hunted for deer, wild turkeys and other animals. Originally Lumbee women probably did most of the farming while the men went hunting, like other Algonquian and Siouan tribes. However, after their contact with Europeans, Lumbee farming and hunting both became primarily male jobs. Lumbee recipes included soup, cornbread, and stews. Here is a website with more information about Native American cooking.

What are Lumbee art and crafts like?
The Lumbee tribes were known for their Indian wood carving, jewelry, and basketry art. Here is a photograph of some Lumbee Indian baskets.

What kinds of stories do the Lumbees tell?
There are lots of traditional Lumbee legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to Lumbee Indian culture. Here's an interview with a modern Lumbee storyteller. Here's a website where you can read more about Lumbee legend.

What about Lumbee religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Lumbee life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Lumbee people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. You can visit this site to learn more about Lumbee spirituality or this site about Indian beliefs and customs in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
If you are a teenager, you may enjoy Nowhere Else on Earth, an interesting work of historical fiction about the Lumbee hero Henry Berry Lowery and his young wife. Younger kids may enjoy the Lyon Saga, the fictional story of a girl from the Roanoke colony who joins the Croatan Indian village. If you want to know more about Lumbee culture and history, one wonderful source is The Only Land I Know, written by a Lumbee author. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended Indian books for kids. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book through one of these links. Most of them can also be found in a public library, though!

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2020.

Thanks for your interest in the Lumbee Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Lumbees

Lumbee Indian Tribe
An overview of the Lumbee people, their language and history.

Lumbee Language Resources
Lumbee language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Lumbee Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Lumbee people past and present.

Lumbee Words
Lumbee Indian vocabulary lists.

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