Lumbee, White, and Growing
Amelia Locklear is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill double majoring in Graphic Design and Biology. She grew up in Huntersville, NC, with her parents, three brothers, and one sister. She is Lumbee Native American through her father and is passionate about community, creativity, and adventure. At UNC, she keeps busy with the UNC-Women’s Rowing team and her local church.
With the future after college being so close by, it feels like I haven’t even found who I genuinely am. Instead, I’ve found that I’m going to learn about myself throughout my entire life. College isn’t the time to hash it out completely for everyone, that much I do know.
I grew up in Huntersville, North Carolina, where I was homeschooled and spent many childhood hours playing in the woods. My family, especially my parents and four younger siblings, are the people with whom I spent the most time for the majority of my young life. My dad is a native Lumbee, and my mom is white. My siblings became my best friends, and we still share a lot with each other. My parents were very purposeful in making sure we stayed connected with our extended family. I’m grateful I can say I have really good relationships with my third cousins on my dad’s side – I know many people don’t have that opportunity.
My dad’s favorite thing in the world is community. Something that really illustrates this inheritance in my life is phone calls with a relative in our community. They want to know when you’re coming “home.” Home to them doesn’t mean a physical house, like mine in Huntersville or Chapel Hill. Instead, they’re asking when you are coming to visit them — in the place where the roots of your native identity lie. Home is where “my people” are, and your people don’t let you forget it.
The Lumbee community is incredibly connected and loyal, centered around caring for one another in the forms of long conversations, big meals, and lots of quality time.
As history often forced a closed-up and isolated culture, it makes sense that these loyal bonds tie those inside the community together. The turmoil Eastern North Carolina Native Americans experienced with the influx of European settlers was never really forgotten – the swampy farmland, which is home to the largest tribe east of the Mississippi, is testimony to the fact that people thrive in community.
Coming to college, I felt slightly guilty since I had opportunities to make new friends and not much time to visit extended family. I’d miss events and celebrations which was a new thing to come to terms with. Being the oldest of all my siblings, the twelve-year age gap that used to make my youngest sibling, DJ, and I feel close now seemed to distance us. Being hours away at college felt like a sick joke. I was missing out on things in their lives that were previously my top priorities.
I learned all this by trial and error, and that felt like my heart was being bulldozed through a meat grinder.
I remember talking to my mom on the phone one day, and she mentioned my then 7-year-old little brother had asked when I would be coming home. My heart was broken; I remember crying as I stood on the phone. The ideal home in my brother’s mind was the place where all his people were together. Through moments like these, I learned how much of a priority family was and remains to me. However, I also learned that doesn’t necessarily mean I have to be with them all the time.
I didn’t live in the Lumbee community growing up; there was always a disconnect because of that. It wasn’t just the physical location that separated me and my native family members and people – it was the culture I was raised in, the way I spoke, the way I think, the things I value, and the way I look. As I entered my freshman year at UNC, it became more and more clear that college would be a significant transition from what life was like before.
My first year, I got to room with one of the closest friends I’ve made since coming to Carolina. We both share the same native identity – having one Lumbee parent and one white parent. This was the time that I can confidently label what I had been experiencing: imposter syndrome. During this time, it gave me peace of mind to know that someone else was experiencing the same feelings as me. I didn't want to identify as a native person at UNC if that meant I was going to feel “inexperienced” in the life of a Lumbee person, even if that community was welcoming enough. I didn't believe I should have to futilely force myself into a Native American circle in order to feel connected to my heritage. I also didn't want to leave that important part of my identity out and just forget about the people that raised me. It felt like a compromise should come with being accepted in both communities of my identity.
One of my biggest goals in adulthood is to be able to own a piece of land as my own. I didn’t realize how important that was to me until I looked back at my heritage. When I was born and it was just me and my parents, we were a young, poor military family. They dropped everything to have a piece of land. That was their dream. That dream threads itself all the way back to my dad’s dad (Papa) – to own a piece of land and to cultivate it.
Looking back before my Papa, the land on which the Lumbee people reside is historically theirs. [They used the land for safety and for nourishment; they knew how to cultivate the land when the white settlers didn’t.] That’s why Lumbee’s are connected to the land – because they’ve earned it. They’ve earned it through their great, great, great, grandfathers and grandmothers. It’s in our blood that we want to own something and cultivate it and then use it to bless others. I have countless memories with my many cousins playing near my Papa’s pond, riding my uncle’s horses around the native peach trees, hunting for Easter eggs around the barn, and eating massive amounts of grape ice cream and collard green sandwiches. That only happened because, for Lumbees (and many other native peoples), land is a tool and a gift – a location to gather your people and spend time together. Land for my family does not look like many of the huge properties with big mansions and well-kept lawns of North Carolina; instead of indicating status,
the humble hand-built homes and climb-worthy fruit trees indicate family.
Gathering people on your land and inviting them to your home is not a light offer, but rather an act of genuine love.
I’ve found that family is built when returning to the land that you came from. That was comforting to discover about myself.
I’m not just a half-Native American, half-white girl. There are parts of me that are not just evident in my dad, but also evident in threads back to my heritage.
Being able to recognize that thread in my Papa and extended family makes me feel like I am actually part of something bigger and like I am closer to them, even though some of them are no longer on this earth with me.
The journey of college has taught me that my mixed heritage doesn’t have to isolate me. Instead, it is something that I have to learn to use as a tool for advocating for those similar to me. For me, it’s selfish when I isolate myself from my heritage. It’s almost as if my being is wasted and not being used to its potential purpose. I shouldn't hide my Lumbee tribal card and just pull it out as something that will get my attention. I should use it for something that is purposeful, where I can be okay with questions and not be afraid to challenge myself in search of a response.
I’m very centered in authenticity, which makes me a brutally honest person. Sharing my story, though, has often felt like a lie. Saying things that are true but don’t necessarily feel true is really, really hard. Advocacy has been a word that I have had to train myself to use correctly. Instead of thinking of it as something that I have to do for myself or something that is only meant for extremely loud and influential people, I’ve learned that advocacy is in the really mundane things.
Advocacy is being humble enough to speak the truth even when the truth hurts.
This is not the universal truth for all mixed-heritage individuals or even those that are half-Lumbee and half-white. It is important that I emphasize that this is a peek into my experience, and every story is extraordinary because of the person who it belongs to. This is how I, as a unique individual, have seen my story, my heritage and my purpose align.
However, our world is broken and not one part is perfect, especially concerning sociology and family dynamics. One of the things I’d love to see evolve is society’s perspectives of Native American groups. These people are not isolated, and my gosh they are not slowly disappearing. They are lively, diverse, and active in communities throughout the United States. The diversity America celebrates as a nation, praising the ‘melting pot’ of cultures and ethnicities in this country, should also include the diverse groups of Native American cultures. Instead, these people are treated as outliers. It’s as if ‘their time has passed to be studied,' or ‘their cultures are so small they can be lumped together with a teepee and feathered band.’ The European continent and the U.S. are relatively similar in size, but we are accustomed to thinking the U.S. was sprinkled with peoples who cooked over fires as opposed to being as culturally diverse as parts of Europe.
The notion is over-politicized and under-humanized.
Being Native American is normal for a lot of people. Our culture provides an amazing opportunity to learn and Native Americans are excited to share their perspectives on history. From my personal account, we are very fun and creative as well, merging practicality with beauty and care for the land. We are curious and smart; you’ve probably met one of us in a class you’ve had!
This Thanksgiving season I have been struck with a hyper-awareness of what it really means to be a Lumbee. The history of the season speaks volumes to what our nation values, and I am thankful for how it brings people together. However, I am striving to use this time wisely; I’m learning how to focus less on how I feel like an imposter in the cultures I belong in, and more on how I can be an advocate for both. It takes work and faith for this to come to fruition, especially when I never lived on the land of my people, but like any good thing, the labor is worth it. What joy I have in sharing parts of my culture with my friends at UNC, and I truly hope that my example might inspire another half-native person to keep their identity alive and thriving when they make the transition to college.
I’m a senior and with only a semester left here, it's tempting to feel like I’m shouting to the void. Then I look back at the people who have led me by example in years past by vibrantly sharing their culture through their daily human lives, and I am inspired. In the future, when my body has gone back to the soil it came from, I hope the mark I leave is not a big, golden stamp, screaming for attention and gathering dust, but alive and dynamic in people who are passionate about the future of the culture they belong to.
- Amelia Locklear