Today, the Lumbees are the largest tribe of American Indians east of the Mississippi. They are the descendants of dozens of tribes in that territory, as well as of free European and enslaved African settlers who lived in what became their core homeland: the low-lying swamplands along the border between North and South Carolina where Lumbee history has unfolded since before the formation of the U.S. Lumbees have insisted on both their kinship with the United States and the value of their difference from other Americans. In addition, being Lumbee has historically been more complicated than identifying with a racial group. This is because tribes are not static societies; they are composed of dynamic networks of kinship and place. Knowledge of kinship—the relationships between different families—and place—the stories told about families in certain locations—is critical to Lumbee identity. The federal government’s refusal to accord the Lumbees federal recognition provides important triggers for Lumbee demands to have their story heard. Sovereignty, however, exists whether a tribe has federal recognition or not, so long as that tribe exercises its right to make and remake its own community and nation through the stories its members tell.
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