Retired Lumbee schoolteacher LaRuth Sampson Alway had never been in a canoe on the Lumber River until last March.
"This is so beautiful!" she exclaimed. "It's inspiring to spend time on the river that gave us our people's life and name."
Mrs. Alway was on a canoe trip sponsored by the Lumbee River Fund, a new history preservation effort that supports a project to have Indian people tell their own version of history.
The Lumbee River Fund is a collaboration between UNC Pembroke, Robeson County's Indian Education Resource Center, the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University and a diverse group of artists, writers and community members who are committed to preserving the history of Indians in and around Robeson County.
What do canoes and history have to do with each other?
"This river is our home, where we come from," says Waltz Maynor, another retired teacher and a member of the Lumbee River Fund's advisory committee. "Our community is full of stories. Many Indian families have ancestors and elders who participated in important events, and we all have everyday stories that teach important lessons. Some of those stories took place on this river, and the people that made the events happen all spent time on the river. We're celebrating the past by being here."
"So much of what our people have got is passing, if we don't do it, no one will know about it," says Mrs. Della Locklear of Robeson County's Prospect community.
Mrs. Locklear wants the stories and the history of her Lumbee Indian community to be protected, and she sees that the generations are coming together to do it. She says, "It's a new day for our young people, and it's bringing our elders forth."
The Lumbee River Fund is a resource for Sampson, Locklear and all Indians from the Robeson County area to tell history as they remember it. The Fund's mission is to collect those stories and preserve them for future generations.
"With this project we come together and recognize how not everybody remembers the past the same way, but that all the perspectives are important to honor," said Dr. Linda Oxendine, an advisory committee member and chair of American Indian Studies at UNC Pembroke.
The advisory committee has met monthly for the last year to discuss the Fund's purpose and goals. Josephine Humphreys, the author of "Nowhere Else on Earth," a novel that re-creates the life of Rhoda Strong and the Civil War era of Henry Berry Lowrie, created the Fund with a donation to UNC Pembroke.
Ms. Humphreys is interested in giving back to the Lumbee community that gave her so much as she researched this book.
"The Indians in this community have taught me so much. I hope this gift helps keep their brilliant past alive," she said.
Malinda Maynor, a Lumbee graduate student in history at UNC Chapel Hill and a documentary filmmaker, is the Fund's coordinator.
"Rather than just have scholars tell us who we are and what's important, the advisory committee believes that Indians in and around Robeson County should be the ones to tell about our own history," she said. "Our community already possesses the interest and knowledge to do this work; we just need resources to make it happen. The Lumbee River Fund hopes to provide some of those resources to Indian people who are interested in preserving the past."
The Fund's ultimate goal is to preserve the record of Southeastern North Carolina Indian history-photos, artifacts, documents, audio tapes, maps, books and articles-and promote a coherent, consistent, and accessible collection of materials to be stored in Pembroke. UNCP's Native American Resource Center and the Indian Education Resource Center, already important repositories of Lumbee historical documents and artifacts, have taken lead roles in shaping the collection and the Fund's goals.
The Lumbee River Fund kicks off its first major project, "Telling Our Own Stories," at this year's Lumbee Homecoming celebration.
"Telling Our Own Stories" is a photography and oral history project that documents Indian history from their perspective. Ms. Maynor hopes that the project will not just be centered around the Pembroke and the university communities. "So many Lumbee families have old photographs and memories, we want to reproduce those photos for the families and for the collection, so that no one has to give away their originals. At the same time, we'll do oral history interviews, preserving the memories in both words and pictures."
An information table for the Fund will be set up at the UNCP powwow on July 7th, where community members can learn about the Fund's activities. At this event and throughout our operation, we hope to reach families from Prospect, Union Chapel, Saddletree, Fairgrove, Shannon, Hopewell-every Indian community.
Beginning Fall 2001, the Fund will sponsor community meetings to determine who is interested and what kinds of documents each community holds. Then, oral history and photography training sessions will be held for volunteers who want skills in preserving their own family history.
In the end, the material that the volunteers collect will contribute to the archive and a photography and oral history exhibit.
"This project promotes collaboration," says Bruce Barton, curator of the Indian Education Resource Center, "and not just collaboration between Indians and non-Indians, but between the different Indian communities and our different stories."
Information about the Lumbee River Fund may be directed to Malinda Maynor at 910.521.9513. Contributions to the fund may be made through the UNCP Office for Advancement, 910.521.6252.