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Southeast Indian Studies Conference an important one for scholars

April 15, 2009

In its 5th year, the Southeast Indian Studies Conference proved a vibrant and vital forum for scholars and issues concerning American Indians of this region.


Author and scholar Dr. Donald Fixico was the keynote speaker.

Held at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke on April 2 – 3, the conference delved into diverse topics – economics, history, gender, culture, spirituality, healing and more – affecting Indians from the Seminole of South Florida to the Haliwa-Saponi of North Carolina and the Cherokee of Oklahoma.

Scholars arrived from Harvard, the University of Oklahoma, New York University and Pembroke to listen, learn and exchange ideas. Dr. Joshua Piker of Oklahoma, who presented a paper titled “Localism in the 18th Century Native American Southeast,” said the conference presents a unique opportunity.

“I specialize in Southeastern Indians, and it’s exciting to be in a room with people who also believe it’s an exciting subject,” Dr. Piker said. “This is a group that is important for me to engage with.”

Deidre White, a recent graduate of New York University and graduate school hopeful, presented a paper titled “Hegemony and Stereotypes: How the Media Impacts the Self-Esteem of Native American Women and Girls.”

White said the conference was informative and “necessary.”

“If you are doing work on Southeastern Indians, this is the place to be,” White said. “There is not enough published about this region’s Native peoples, so I would like to see more conferences like this.”

Dr. Mary Ann Jacobs, chair of UNCP’s American Indian Studies program and coordinator of the conference, said the mission is to be a crucible for study of the region’s Indians.
“I am very pleased with the turnout and the quality of the papers presented,” Dr. Jacobs said. “This is the premier conference for the study of American Indians in our own region and we’ve had an outstanding two days.

“I believe it is important for Pembroke and the University to sponsor for this event,” Dr. Jacobs said.


Dr. Donald Fixico, a Shawnee, Sac and Fox, Muscogee Creek and Seminole Indian and history professor at Arizona State University, was the keynote speaker. He is author of several books including “The American Indian Mind in a Linear World: American Indian Studies” and “Traditional Knowledge.”

“To see people gathering like this is good indeed,” Dr. Fixico said. “There was a time when people didn’t used to care about Indians.”

“Conferences like this grow every year,” he said.

In a lecture titled “Native Knowledge of Learning from the Earth,” Dr. Fixico advocated for a Native way of thinking he calls “earth knowledge.”

The Native mind is wired differently, he said. A classroom experience in his early career demonstrated that he was “teaching history in a non-linear fashion to linear students.

“It’s not who is right or wrong,” he said. “I just wish they would understand that it’s a different way of thinking.

“When books are written about Native people, they are written from the outside,” Dr. Fixico continued. “Why is it that we have to come to the mainstream, but the mainstream does not return the favor?”

To improve on the study of Native people and history, the scholar would build a two-way “cultural bridge” between the thinking of white and native people that would allow others to know how Native people think.

The key to understanding Native thinking, he said is to understand the connectedness of all things, human, animal, plant, environment and the dreams, visions and spirits of the supernatural.

“Everything is about these relationships,” Dr. Fixico said. “Native people tend to merge the physical and the metaphysical; hence dreams become part of their reality.

“I was surprised to hear there are Native scholars who do not believe in ghosts,” he continued. “Indian reality is not just about human-to-human relationships.”

The scholar and author encouraged the study of Native people from the Native perspective, but he said there is value in this non-linear perspective for understanding all things.

“We need to work to advance Native thinking,” he said. “If we do not listen to the earth, we are heading to a very dangerous place.”


Two UNCP American Indian Studies students presented research at the conference. Tasha Oxendine, marketing director of the Given Performing Arts Center, presented a paper on “Traditional Lumbee Healing.”

“The traditions of spiritual healing are still alive and being passed on,” Oxendine said. “The tradition of ‘blowing fire’ to ease the pain from burns is being used today to help cancer victims undergoing radiation treatment.”

Community interviews provided a profile of several local Native healers.

“One commonality with healers is they seem to all have experienced a hardship in their lives,” Oxendine said. “Often they are women, ages 40 – 80, who have never seen their father because they died before they were born.”

Another common aspect is that healing is not a commercial venture.

“They are not forward about it, and the gift of healing is not viewed as a blessing but a responsibility,” Oxendine said. “Because it requires faith, they are sought out for healing.”

Like Oxendine, Lawrence Locklear works at UNCP and is seeking a second degree in American Indian Studies. He presented research on the origin and meaning of the word “Lumbee,” which is the historic Indian name for the Lumber River.

“The first reference to the word Lumbee that I found was in an 1888 essay by Hamilton McMillan about the tribe and the Lost Colony,” Locklear said. “Another theory is that Lumbee in a Siouan word similar to names for Santee, Wateree, Congaree and Pee Dee rivers.

“References and use of the Lumbee or Lumbee River are found in every year between 1904 and 1952 when the tribe adopted it as its name,” he continued. “The word became quite popular in Robeson County and was used in many different ways.”

Ultimately, Locklear would like to see the Lumbee name for the river restored.


Another session was on Catawba pottery by Drs. Nicol Nixon Auguste and Stephen Criswell of the University of South Carolina Lancaster. The pottery tradition was carried on by women in the post Civil War era.

“Clay was the only thing of value that could be extracted from their land,” Dr. Auguste said. “The tribe lost men during the Civil War, and this tribe survived because women began creating, trading and selling pottery.”


Dr. Joshua Piker of the University of Oklahoma confers with Dr. Clara Kidwell of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Over time, the pottery evolved from utilitarian objects to fine art, Dr. Criswell said. His paper focused on Georgia Harris, a particularly talented modern potter.

“The Catawbas have the oldest continuous potting tradition east of the Mississippi,” Dr. Criswell said. “Georgia Harris was born in 1905 to a family of innovative potters.”

Harris’ works of finely rubbed pottery fetches high prices today, he said. The tradition appears to be surviving.

Dr. Malinda Maynor Lowery, a Pembroke native and faculty member at Harvard, discussed the emergence of commerce in Indian country as a result of mining enterprises on the Choctaw reservation in Oklahoma.

“How the Choctaws reacted to the land and mineral grab with the creation of leases and royalties was a turning point in the nation’s control of land and resources,” she said.

Dr. Lowery, who will join UNC-Chapel Hill’s faculty in the fall, is working on a new book on “the identity of Robeson County Indians during the Jim Crow segregation years of 1870 – 1956.”

“I believe it will be a good read,” Dr. Lowery said. “I have drawn from federal and state archives.”

Dr. Cynthia R. Kasee of Winston-Salem State University continued the conversation on Indian enterprise with a look at the Seminole Tribe.

“This is perhaps the wealthiest Indian tribe and their wealth has perpetuated and preserved their culture,” Dr. Kasee said.

Like the Lumbee, the Seminole are not one historic tribe but a remnant of many tribes. The recent history of the Seminole is about big money gambling and cultural and environmental preservation work that is being done with it.

“The Seminole have the best of both worlds,” Dr. Kasee said. “They have gotten in the market and maintained traditions.”

UNCP and its local community share another issue with the Seminole. Dr. Kasee said the use of the tribe’s name for Florida State University’s athletic logo and mascot does not trouble the Seminole.

“I did not agree with it, but they said it doesn’t matter because the word Seminole is not even a word in their language,” she continued. “There is no licensing agreement, but the university does some outreach to the tribe.”
Dr. Stan Knick, director and curator of UNCP’s Native American Resources Center, showed one of his latest documentaries in the “Our People” series. This one was on the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation.

Dr. Rose Stremlau, a UNCP History Department faculty member, presented a paper on the women and the Dawes Rolls, which were created beginning in 1898 asserves as a tribal roll and land allotments for members of five Western tribes.

“This was a fiscally and culturally devastating processing that resulted in a change of the tribe’s belief system,” Dr. Stremlau said. “Behind the rolls is the idea that Cherokee women were immoral and a danger to Progressive society.
“Legal and financial rules also came to the Cherokee,” she said. “The rolls were a bureaucratic solution that exacerbated the politics of identity.”

For questions regarding the Southeast Indian Studies Conference, please contact the American Indian Studies Department at 910.521.6266 or email