In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. —Dennis Zotigh
Please introduce yourself with your name and title.
My name is Paul Brooks. I am the chairman of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. My childhood nickname is Bean. I was raised in a family 14, so I’m not sure how I got that name.
Where is the Lumbee Tribe located? Where was your band originally from?
The Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina is located in Robeson and adjoining counties. We are descendants of the Cheraw Indians who migrated from Virginia to North Carolina and settled along the banks of Drowning Creek, which is known today as the Lumber River.
What is a significant point in history from your nation that you would like to share?
One significant point in Lumbee history was the elimination of double-voting in the 1970s in Robeson County. Double voting allowed city residents in Robeson County to vote for both the city and county school board, giving non-Native city residents unusual control over county schools, where most Lumbee children studied. The system was struck down by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia. The movement to end double-voting helped our tribe progress in leadership roles.
How is your tribal government set up?
We have a constitutional form of government, which was established by a vote of the people in 2000. We have three separate but equal branches of government—judicial, executive, and legislative.
Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?
There is not a traditional entity of leadership in addition to our government system.
How often are elected leaders chosen?
We have 21 council members who represent 14 districts in Robeson, Cumberland, Scotland, and Hoke counties. The council representatives are elected every three years and can serve no more than two consecutive terms.
How often does the Tribal Council meet?
The Tribal Council meets once a month. It may hold special-called council meetings when needed.
What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?
According to the Lumbee Constitution, the chairman is given all executive powers, including implementation of and compliance with annual budgets. The chairman assures that all tribal laws are executed.
The chairman must deliver to the membership an annual State of the Tribe Address during the first week of July. The address shall include a proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
The chairman has the authority to veto any ordinance enacted by the Tribal Council. The chairman nominates a Tribal Administrator, and the chairman represents the Lumbee Tribe before all other governments and tribunals, including the United States, the state of North Carolina, and all federal and state agencies.
How did your life experience prepare you to lead your tribe?
The role that my father, the late Pete Brooks, played in my life is what prepared me to be a leader within my tribe. This is my biggest attribute. He instilled in me the importance of education, hard work, and a strong work ethic.
Who inspired you as a mentor?
The people who inspired me as mentors were my father and my cousin, the late Dexter Brooks. Dexter Brooks was the first American Indian Superior Court Judge in North Carolina.
Are you a descendant of a historical leader?
Approximately how many members are in your tribe?
There are about 55,000 members in our tribe.
What are the criteria to become a member of the Lumbee Tribe?
Our tribal membership is based on descendancy from the tribe’s base rolls and maintaining contact with the tribe.
Is your language still spoken on your homelands?
Our language was lost years ago.
What economic enterprises does your tribe own?
The tribe owns the former North Carolina Indian Cultural Center.
What annual events does the Lumbee Tribe sponsor?
Annual events hosted by the tribe include the "Dance of the Spring Moon” Spring Powwow, Senior Ms. Lumbee Pageant, and a Veterans Luncheon. The tribe also plays an integral part in the annual Lumbee Homecoming festivities.
What attractions are available for visitors on your land?
There are several historical sites across our tribal territory, including the former North Carolina Indian Cultural Center. This 389-acre site is the home of the outdoor drama Strike At the Wind!, performed from the 1970s until 2007. The center also includes a golf course, pool, walking trails, and campgrounds.
The Indian Normal School, now known as the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, is also an historical site.
How does your tribe deal with the United States as a sovereign nation?
The Lumbee Tribe receives federal funds based on our status as a sovereign American Indian tribe.
What message would you like to share with Lumbee youth?
My message to our youth would be to work hard, be honest, obtain an education, and, above all else, be ready to work for your people.
Also, I would like to add, to get involved with your community. The smallest contribution can have the largest impact.
All photos courtesy of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. Used with permission.
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From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission.