UNCP, Lumbee Tribe build on shared vision

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UNCP partnered with the Lumbee Tribe to return Strike at the Wind! to the Lumbee Tribe Cultural Center this summer. All three shows were sold out.

UNC Pembroke and the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina value the importance of collaboration.

“UNCP has remained deeply connected to the Lumbee Tribe since being established in 1887,” said Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings.

“Our collaborations impact the students, community and region—from teaming up for campus events and summer camps to scholarship and grant opportunities, we are committed to our partnership with the tribe and ensuring our heritage remains strongly represented across our campus community.”

The latest demonstration of this partnership resulted in three sold-out shows of the outdoor drama Strike at the Wind!. After a 10-year hiatus, leaders from the university and the tribe revived the play in 2017. It was staged the past two years at the Givens Performing Arts Center. The legendary drama received rave reviews in its long-awaited return this summer to the Adolph Dial Amphitheater at the Lumbee Tribe Cultural Center.

This year’s outdoor production was a culmination of several years of collaboration between UNCP and the Lumbee Tribe, said Jonathan Drahos, associate professor and director of Theatre at UNCP. This is his third year as play director.

“Theatre, for me, is most powerful when its purpose is to outreach to the community, and to passionately inspire the community in positive and uplifting ways. This is exactly what we set out to accomplish with our endeavor,” Drahos said.

“It would not be possible without the exceptional leadership of our Chancellor Robin Cummings, Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin, and the community of patrons who so diligently supported the play and honored its great history. So many aspects aligned for this collaboration to be effective. Too many people to name had a hand in the success. And for all of them, I am grateful. I am truly humbled to be a part of it.”

The overwhelming success of Strike at the Wind! spotlights the true regional impact of this collaboration, according to Godwin.

“The many stories of people from across the southeast spoke to the anticipation and pride which followed the return of the outdoor drama to the Adolph Dial Amphitheater,” Godwin said. 

“Collaborations between the Lumbee Tribe and UNC Pembroke play a crucial role in supporting our community and region with grant opportunities as well as student engagement and cultural enrichment.”

While community engagement is key, expanding access to educational and culturally-enriched opportunities to students across the southeast remains on the forefront of the Tribe and UNCP’s shared vision. 

In January, the Lumbee Tribe initiated a student housing voucher program for enrolled members attending UNCP. It provides 50 college students a $300-a-month voucher per semester to supplement housing costs on or off campus. It would provide up to $1,500 per semester.

The tribe and university provide cultural awareness activities through the sponsorship of the American Indian Science and Engineering (AISES) Powwow and Julian Pierce Art Auction, both held during Lumbee Homecoming. The Julian Pierce Scholarship supports UNCP students from Robeson County with financial need who demonstrate scholastic and leadership abilities.

The Museum of the Southeast American Indian hosts a Lumbee Genealogy Symposium and also sponsors American Indian Storytelling and Dancing and an abbreviated version of Strike at the Wind! as part of the university’s annual American Indian Heritage Month celebration in November.

The university also signals its unique heritage and connection to the Tribe during Commencement where the Lumbee Ambassadors and an American Indian flutist traditionally lead the procession.

This year, collaborative efforts were recognized as UNCP was named the winner of the 2019 SunTrust Foundation Connecting Communities Award for its American Indian Heritage Day event through UNCP Athletics. 

A Lumbee Tribe-inspired alternate football uniform was created for a special gameday and was later featured on an ESPN segment. The game-worn jerseys were auctioned off with proceeds creating a scholarship for American Indians students at UNCP.

And perhaps most significant, this summer, high school students are taking advantage of a free residential summer program courtesy of a $3.6 million grant secured by the Tribe, the university, Robeson Community College and the Public Schools of Robeson County. Project 3C instills the importance of STEM career preparedness in American Indian students in grades 1-12. 

Like Project 3C, Project ACCESS is another federally funded initiative designed to improve access to higher education for American Indian youth. The program exposes the students to campus life and teaches them about the admissions and financial aid processes as well as test-tasking strategies.

Project ACCESS was the first collaboration between the tribe, the university, RCC and the PSRC. Dr. Lawrence Locklear, program coordinator for UNCP’s Southeast American Indian Studies Program, acknowledged the significance of the grant.

“Project ACCESS is a continuation of the university’s historical mission of service to the Lumbee community and other American Indians of the region. Both Project ACCESS and Project 3C are critical to improving access to higher education and career preparedness for Native students. These grants have the potential to shape the future of a generation of American Indian students,” Locklear said.

“We can never truly measure the impact of the Project 3C and Project ACCESS grants on student college and career readiness,” Godwin added.

“The summer camps offer the students endless opportunities in areas from STEM to health careers to robotics and so much more. We believe these initiatives will bridge the divide by offering students global access as well as lay the groundwork to empower our children to succeed in college and beyond.”