The Aug. 26 Washington Post Magazine article on the Lumbee Indians eloquently explained what I have had to articulate for more than 40 years [“The trials of the Lumbee”]. Growing up as a Lumbee Indian in North Carolina inherently involves an identity crisis: Native Americans are the sole race or ethnicity that is acknowledged only if the government says we exist. We exist, yet we still have to prove it. Alcoholism, substance abuse and suicide are linked to this fundamental questioning of our identity. We are in the “Other” box. To try to feel safe inside that box and then be told to prove your right to be in that box is deeply demoralizing.
Colonization caused death, disease and cultural subjugation of Native American communities. Settlers systematically suppressed our governance and sovereignty. Forced removals traumatized native people by severing us from the lands that contained the plants and animals needed to sustain our physical, mental, cultural and spiritual health. When those efforts and policies failed to extinguish us, the boarding school era separated Native American children from their families and cultures, forbidding our languages and forcing us to “act white.” Although those of us still alive today are proud, strong survivors, we continue to face the most dire socioeconomic conditions of any group in the United States.
Beyond seeing us, the United States must enact justice for the wrongs it committed against First Nations peoples. Our history has left trauma not only in my community but also in yours. Healing cannot occur unless everyone is part of the process. Let it begin.
Edgar Villanueva, New York
The writer, author of “Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance,” is chairman of the Board of Directors of Native Americans in Philanthropy.
The Washington Post Magazine article on the Lumbee Indians failed to mention some important historical facts. First, there is no primary-source evidence that links them to a known historical tribe, not the Tuscarora, the Cherokee or the Cheraw. Second, there is extensive genealogical and historical evidence that proves their descent from free blacks from Virginia who migrated to North Carolina in the 18th century. Third, they made a deal with the so-called Redeemers after Reconstruction to switch from the Republican to the Democratic Party if North Carolina recognized them as an Indian tribe with their own segregated schools. The normal school they established is now the Pembroke campus of the University of North Carolina. Finally, in the 1950s, they fought the integration of their tri racial (Indian, black and white) segregated schools.
These historical facts have been brought to the attention of scholars who ignore or dismiss them by claiming there are no facts, just context. Why teach history if we dismiss historical evidence? No wonder we live in a time when a significant part of the population doesn’t know the difference between a free press and “fake news.”
David Steven Cohen, Chapel Hill, N.C.