Ch.2: We Ain't Got Feathers and Beads.

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Bordewich, Fergus M. Killing the white man's Indian: reinventing Native Americans at the end of the twentieth century. New York: Doubleday, 1996. [See Chapter 2, “We Ain't Got Feathers and Beads,” pp.60-92.] Key source


A scholarly and well documented, engagingly written, and up-to-date account of the Lumbee quest for federal recognition and the issues involved in that quest. Provides concise historical and cultural background on the tribe (such as the fact that “encounters here [among the Lumbee] inevitably begin with the swapping of genealogies” (p. 61)). Makes good use of quotations from interviews with Lumbee people as well as with others knowledgeable about them. Cynthia L. Hunt, for instance, talks about “Recognition psychosis....I feel as if I'm not a real Indian if I don't wear feathers. Just thinking about it, I get all bent out of shape. You're told all your life that you're Indian, but sometimes you want to be that kind of Indian that everybody else accepts as Indian” (p. 63).

One section explains how an Indian person is defined, drawing on Census Bureau information, N. Scott Momaday, and various federal laws. Another section discusses the definition of an Indian tribe, using ideas from Vine Deloria, Jr., ethnology, the Interior Department, John Collier, and various federally recognized tribes' membership criteria. Bordewich provides thoughts and reminiscences from Claude Lowry on white encroachment upon the Lumbee, beginning in the 18th century.  He mentions Lumbee attitudes, both historical and current, on blood quantum. 

Bordewich talked with Holly Reckord of the BIA's Branch of Acknowledgment Research , and with Jack Campisi, the anthropologist who served as a consultant to the Lumbee on their petition to the BIA for federal recognition. Campisi commented on the difficulties the BIA's federal recognition requirements pose for groups that don't fit the pattern on which the requirements were based - i.e., the government's experiences with Plains tribes in the mid-19th century. For example, the BIA's requirement that petitioners prove relationship to a specific tribe is hard for them to meet when 18th and 19th century records don't show a clear relationship, or when records were destroyed, or when tribes moved away from an area, or when whites consciously tried to omit or remove evidence of natives from records. 

Linda Oxendine stated, “Lumbees know who they are. But they don't know why they are. A lot of people define Indian identity as traditional religion, tribal land, and language. Along with that, there is a tendency to believe that when Indians adapt they become less Indian. Lumbees are Christians, private land owners, and speak English. But adaptation is the essence of being Indian. Before contact, tribes borrowed from each other. After contact, they borrowed from the whites. Tribes were always changing. Total adaptation was not the goal, but people did what was necessary to make life good for themselves, or what they had to do to survive” (p. 79).

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90 notes (p. 349-351)