|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 24, 2017 at 2:05 AM|
We started our last day of the trip at the Indian Education Center and then stayed busy the entire day, thanks to our guide Mac who we are convinced knows everyone in town. He has dedicated his life to this community and loves the people and the place desperately. And we were privileged to have him share his passion with us.
We delved a little deeper into the history of American Indian When Andrew Jackson moved others during the Indian Removal Act, the Lumbee were allowed to stay on their land since no one wanted the swamp land. Yet they still lost rights through the Act in 1835, including their right to vote, the right to own a gun and their right to go to school. The right to go to school- even segregated ones- was not gained until Henry Lowrie fought against the settlers (after witnessing settlers kill his entire family) and prevailed in 1874. We also heard a wonderful story about how the Lumbee stood up to the Klan when they were hoping to hold a rally in the 1950s. The Lumbee turned up to the protest in mass and scared them off by shooting into the air in the dark so the Klan didn’t know what was happening. And after the men jumped into the lake to get away, the Lumbee stayed behind to help the Klanswomen who were getting the cars stuck in ditches while trying to get away. These are the stories that are told to the young people that help them know who they are as a people- a people who will not be bullied, but will stand up for the good of their community.
We also got to make a quick trip out to wigwam and the Spiritual Circle to see where some of the tribe gathers at equinox and solstice as well as for the spring pow-wow. They have made a wigwam (although they didn’t scrape the bark at the right time of year so it curled a bit) and have tried to grow the Three Sisters (corn, beans, and squash) and had lots of trial and error to get it right. These are traditions that weren’t passed down and they are having to relearn the old ways and gather their stories once again.
Our tour guide Kenneth told us that the American Indians that eventually became known as the Lumbee survived by banding together. Separately their individual tribal existences were threatened by disease, discrimination and violence. But they were willing to band together in the swamps and become a new people. And this willingness to intermix with others is what allowed them to take in others in need- escaped slaves and Union soldiers escaping prisons in the south. And yet, now this banding together is also what is standing in the way of federal recognition for their tribe, since the government is asking them to choose only one tribal background, am impossibility for a people of numerous tribal heritages. As they continue to try to gain federal recognition, Kenneth said, “We want recognition to care for our elders well, but if we don’t get it, we’ll go on. We’ve already survived this long.” It underscored the understanding of the Lumbee as a self-determined people who will keep finding a way no matter what.
Although the pastor of the Burnt Swamp Baptist Church was not available today to talk as we had hoped, we did learn that there is a largely Lumbee congregation in Baltimore, where many folks moved years ago for the shipbuilding industry. So there are possibilities to deepen the connection to the Lumbee people that we began in North Carolina.
Nest stop was to see Herman and Loretta Oxendine who were good enough to let us come to their home and see the traditional crafts they make. Herman makes hand-shaped pottery fired in a pit while Loretta makes pine-needle baskets. They told stories about growing up in Robeson County under segregation and that they “didn’t think nothin’ of, it’s just how it was. You could go anywhere in Pembroke, just not other places.” Their stories of meeting each other, Loretta’s work as a teacher and their obvious pride in their work was a joy to hear.
Back at the River Way environmental center, our guide Mac shared with us wisdom from his 4 decades of work on social transformation. Mac is a man who sees things holistically and sees the gaps in our culture’s way of transforming communities and society as a whole. He encouraged our students to see the value in relationship building and social deliberation as the underpinning of all social change. This is what keeps social movements going and makes them effective- like the Civil Rights Movement. And then we helped to rebuild what was lost by the flood by laying down flooring, removing rotted boards and generally cleaning out the porch and yard. It was a joy to give a tiny bit back to Mac who had done so very much for us.
For our closing worship, with some UNCP students and 2 folks from St Mark’s, we had students share reflections about 3 themes that came up during the week that are also part of our story as followers of Jesus: community, knowing our stories, and imagining a new future. And we gathered around the meal where Jesus meets us- among the community and in the midst of our communal story. The meal where Jesus invites us to imagine the new future that will be reality one day.
For the offering, we invited students to write what God was calling them to do after this week. Many are inspired to continue to serve their neighbors and actually be involved in the lives of others. And several students felt called into deeper community after experiencing the strength of it on this trip, including several who were inspired by Mac’s connection to the community. And still others want to return home and share stories of the Lumbee and amplify their voice as they fight for federal recognition. May God go with these students and empower them in their sense of calling!