A Pedacito Of The Lumbee Tribe
I've always considered myself the most typical of Americans. I can't trace my "people" to a single country or culture, but a mix of multiple cultures including German, Scotts-Irish, English, and Native American.
In truth, I've always kept it simple by just thinking of myself as "a white guy." But in light of November being Native American Heritage Month, I decided to see if some of the stories that I had heard about my Native American roots were even true.
My grandmother used to tell me about one of our ancestors who was considered the daughter of a great chief and that she had married a white man. She told me that the white man was ostracised by the rest of his family and community for marrying a non-white woman.
I've always considered this story to be made up. Plenty of people claim to have Native American heritage for multiple reasons and I assumed this was the case for my grandmother as well. However, this morning I traced my family tree to discover that my grandmother was actually telling me the truth.
After going on multiple ancestry websites, I was able to trace my maternal line back to a woman named Elizabeth "Appa Coreetuk" Martin, who was a member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina and who married John Strickland (my great-great-great-grandfather who was of English descent).
I learned that the Lumbee Tribe was known for marrying both white settlers and freed slaves throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. I also discovered that this caused a lot of problems for them and their offspring.
Because the Lumbee Tribe so openly mixed with white and black people, the other tribes refused to accept them as "true natives". At the same time, because they were considered "mixed blood", they weren't accepted by the European settlers either.
Due to racism, the Lumbee Tribe has, to this day, never been granted the full benefits given to other tribes. Because many members look more like African-Americans or European-Americans than a typical Native-American, they are still not completely considered to be a real tribe by both the U.S. government and by other tribes.
The marriage between Appa and John Strickland reminds me of the best of American history. The American story is one of different colors and cultures coming together despite seemingly insurmountable racism and bigotry.
I'm proud to call them my ancestors. And I hope that the story of the Lumbee Tribe will remind me to not simply categorize people by appearances alone.
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