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Native Americans
NC Indian Tribes


Native Americans have a long history in North Carolina. The original inhabitants of the area that is now called North Carolina were the Catawbas, the Cherokees, the Creeks, the Croatans, the Tuscaroras, and the Tutelo and Saponi Tribes.

Currently, the only federally recognized tribe in North Carolina is the Cherokee Tribe, residents of whom primarily live in the western part of NC. To receive funding from the government, Native American Tribes must prove that they have been identified since historic times through the present as American Indians or aboriginals. That is just one of the 7 criteria groups that has to be met for a tribe to gain federal recognition. The importance of federal recognition is that the tribe will be eligible to receive federal funding.

Federally-recognized tribes are eligible for a variety of federally-funded Indian services. these range from health care to housing assistance to education to economic development assistance. They may exercise certain rights over band members, and band members have certain rights regarding their own tribal governments. Federally-recognized tribes—if large enough—maintain their own law enforcement and courts systems. They may place a communally-owned land base in federal trust, so that it cannot be sold by individuals, lost to tax forfeiture, or even alienated by corrupt tribal governments -- although all those losses have happened to Native Nations' lands that have been in federal trust. Theoretically, however, the recognized tribe has a quasi-national status that gives it and its citizen-members greater control over their lands, lives, and long-term survival. Finally, they may start the only enterprise which has shown consistent success across about 40 tribes who've done it: a casino. (Many states bitterly oppose this. Tribal casinos have been successful because they provide what is evidently a desired form of entertainment to white communities that is otherwise forbidden by state laws.) Non-recognized tribes have none of these advantages or powers.

The primary group of Native Americans that reside in Eastern North Carolina are the Lumbees. The Lumbee tribe in North Carolina has been trying to obtain federal recognition since 1888 without success. In 1956, Congress passed the Lumbee Act which recognized the tribe members as Indians, but they did not gain full recognition status.

The Lumbees are actually the largest tribe in North Carolina with a population of around 55,000 members. They reside primarily in Robeson, Hoke, Cumberland, and Scotland counties. They are the largest tribe east of the Mississippi River and the 9th largest in the United States. They are named after the “Lumbee” river which runs through Robeson County.

Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina

Pembroke, North Carolina is the economic, cultural and political center of the tribe...The ancestors of the Lumbee were mainly Cheraw and related Siouan-speaking Indians who have lived in the area of what is now Robeson County since the 1700s. The Lumbee people have been recognized by the state of North Carolina since 1885, and at the same time established a separate school system that would benefit tribal members. In 1887, the state established the Croatan Normal Indian School, which is today The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

Each Fall the Lumbee Tribe holds a Pow-Wow, usually the last weekend in October. The Pow-Wow celebrates the traditions and culture of the Lumbee people. Events include traditional dancers and drummers, art and traditional food booths, an opening ceremony, special presentations on Tribal Heritage, dancing and drumming competitions, and traditional music.

Schedule of events for this year’s Pow - Wow PDF


Lumbee Regional Development Association
Lumbee Tribe History
Manataka American Indian Council
Native American Tribes in North Carolina
Pembroke, NC

ECU Resources

East Carolina Native American Organization (ECNAO)
provides the University and surrounding community with programs and activities that will expose them to the riches of the Native American contribution to America’s history and culture. It also aids the university in recruitment and retention of Native American students. ECNAO serves as a cultural resource for all students, faculty, and staff at ECU and in the community.

Celebrating Native American Culture at ECU (article)

ECU Libraries Materials