Because she often goes to Gator's Place, a tiny tavern on the northern edge of the Fells Point neighborhood here, Charlotte Hammonds was reunited with the brother she hadn't seen in nine years.

The only bar in Baltimore owned by American Indians, Gator's is a place where reunions are a regular occurrence. Indians coming to town gravitate here because they know that, eventually, they will find a long-lost relative or friend.

"It's just one big happy family here," said Barbara Hammonds, no relation, down the bar from Charlotte, who nodded agreement.

According to the U.S. Census, Maryland had only 8,021 Indians in 1980, a miniscule amount compared to many other states. About 3,500 live here in Baltimore, mostly in the Fells Point section east of the Inner Harbor.

Many came here after World War II, looking for work in the factories. Since then, they have been buffeted about -- by urban renewal on the north, by gentrification on the south.

While statistics are lacking, Baltimore Indians say they suffer from inadequate housing and other ills of urban poverty. But many own businesses and, despite the travails of modern city life, proudly maintain their own identity.

For the most part, they attend the South Broadway Baptist Church and live in clusters on streets such as East Baltimore, South Chester and South Ann. Locklear, Hammonds, Hunt, Lowry and Oxendine are among the more common surnames.

Most of Baltimore's and Maryland's Indians are not native to the state. They come from rural Robeson County, N.C., which many still refer to as home. A recent survey showed that 13 percent had been here 15 or more years, but a lilting southern accent still marks the speech of many.

Ninty percent are Lumbee, a tribe with a hazy history that is rooted in part in the 17th-century Lost Colony of English who settled Roanoke Island at North Carolina's Outer Banks.

The settlers are believed to have intermarried with Indians. The name applied to their descendants, which was adopted by tribal referendum in 1952, is from the Lumbee River that runs through the flat, sandy land of southeastern North Carolina.

Lumbees aside, there are also some Cherokee and a few Haliwa-Sipone here in Baltimore. They all come together at Gator's.

"People come up from North Carolina, this is the first place they come," said owner Leola (Gator) Hunt, who is of Seminole and Irish background. "I have black, white, Indian. They know they can come here and have no problems."

The tavern owner, 45, is married to James Hunt, 47, who came here in 1959 from North Carolina to find work, like most of his Indian brethren. He toiled in the General Motors factory, and as a plumber, janitor and electrician. Now he helps his wife run Gator's Place, and enjoys fishing on weekends.

A stocky strong-minded fellow, Hunt left Robeson County for the armed forces at the age of 17. Unlike some others, he does not call North Carolina home.

"A couple of years ago, my wife and I drove down there," he said. "Just riding in that country, I was glad to get out of it. This, to me, is home, regardless of whether the state accepts me or treats me like a foreigner."

In Maryland, Hunt asserts, "you put 'place of birth, Carolina,' you're treated like an outsider. They say, 'You wanna cry, go home and cry.' "

The Lumbee label is one that Hunt does not like.

"Let me tell you something about this Lumbee thing," he says. "I'm a regular American Indian. My father's a Cherokee and I got a little Sicilian Jew in me. They had to adopt this Lumbee name to get subsidies from the state."

Gator's, open for three years, replaced three other Indian bars shut down by redevelopment. Its owners are proud of its reputation as a place where rowdiness, drugs and drunkenness are unwelcome.

But because alcohol historically is regarded as an evil foisted upon the Indians by white men, the Baltimore Pow-Wow, held each August in Fells Point, serves none.

Because of this, James Hunt refuses to join the Baltimore American Indian Business Association.

"If you're Polish, Jewish, whatever, you can sell whatever alcoholic beverages," said Hunt. "But they're telling me that I'm not responsible, that I should be on the reservation."

Hunt has a point, acknowledged Barry Richardson, a Haliwa-Sipone who is executive director of the Baltimore American Indian Center, a few blocks from Gator's and up the street from the South Broadway Baptist Church.

"We like to think of this more as a cultural-religious event than a fair," Richardson said. "Also, you have to look at what people outside say. Alcohol is not served at any pow wows in the United States. There is a lot of Indian pressure on us not to have any alcohol."

The center that Richardson heads was established in 1968, during the halycon days of Indian activism and awareness. Elizabeth Locklear, an alcoholism counselor at the center, was there at the birth.

"Living in Baltimore then, you was one of two things, black or white," she said. "We were saying, 'Gee, there is nothing our children can see to relate to their heritage.' So we met in August 1968 and started organizing."

The United Way-supported center, in a three-story house, has a $250,000 annual budget. It provides programs for teen-agers, senior citizens and anyone who needs help with housing or jobs.

It also operates a "Trading Post" across the street that features mostly what Richardson refers to as "Indian-looking" products, including beadwork made in Japan and moccasins made in Minnesota.

Around the corner on East Baltimore Street, Louise Godwin, 46, displayed Indian jewelry that she had acquired on one of her annual trips to North Carolina.

"When I go home, I'm ready to turn around and come back," she said. "I had hard times there. I'd just rather be here."

Sharing a row house stoop were her daughter, Dickie Godwin, 23, expecting her first child, and her mother, Rose Hammonds, 61.

Back home, the family had farmed tobacco, corn, cotton. Here, the grandmother grew tomatoes and pepper in their small backyard and kept a hen and rooster in the basement.

After her husband, a railroad worker, died, Hammonds said, "I just sold my trailer and come up here, so I could be with my kids."

As to her tribal identity, she said, "I'm part Cherokee. Ain't none of us Lumbee. My mother was white, my father Cherokee. I also got Jew in me."

There were, they counted, 15 Indian families on the block. Most of them live in 32 apartments in 10 buildings cooperatively purchased a few years ago when the neighborhood was threatened with private redevelopment.

At Gator's, housing is high on the agenda of grievances, according to Charlotte Hammonds, born in Maryland of white and Indian parentage.

"Like on South Broadway, those people were promised decent housing and they didn't get it," she said. "These projects, there are more black and white than Indian. It makes me sick. I live in a city-owned house. When they build this up, don't you think they're gonna get rid of me?

" . . .I want to live somewhere where I can be comfortable. I just want to be a normal human being. We all bleed the same. It's just hard on people who live here, because they keep putting us down and down."