On the first weekend of July, the small town of Pembroke, North Carolina, hosts the Lumbee Homecoming, a yearly event for the nearly 55,000 people who belong to the Native American Lumbee tribe. Every year since 1968, tens of thousands of people from Robeson County and the surrounding areas have gathered for a powwow, parade, golf tournament, and the most popular event of the week: a beauty pageant.
There is no formal admission to the tribe, and the Lumbee are not federally recognized. They have no official language or land—elders say both were stolen by colonizers so early that their details are lost in history—and they receive no subsidies or federal funding. Lumbee ancestry includes intermixing between several tribes, as well as intermarriage between Native American and black communities during the 19th century. The Homecoming is, in many ways, recognition that the Lumbee give themselves.
Despite their struggle for federal status, Lumbee pride runs deep, and it’s no coincidence that the Homecoming culminates in a pageant: the beauty of Lumbee women is a point of pride. The coveted title of Miss Lumbee is awarded to several women and girls every year—there are multiple age categories, with the youngest contestants being in elementary school. The winners can receive college scholarships and roles as community ambassadors along with their yearlong claim to the crown. It’s a high-profile position that is deeply meaningful to a tribe that struggles to define itself within the Native American community.
Excerpt from publication in Topic's The Federal Project No. 2. Supported by VSCO Voices.