Class of 2020 Studies Complexities of Tribal Sovereignty in North Carolina

Learning Lab I, an annual experience designed and implemented by freshman Park Scholars, affords students insight into leadership through the lens of a challenge currently facing the state of North Carolina. The Class of 2020 opted to explore the obstacles our state’s tribal leaders face in exercising their rights of tribal sovereignty and self-determination by discussing these topics with leaders of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Lumbee Tribe. The class traveled to meet with both groups on their respective tribal lands—the former on the Qualla Boundary in Western N.C., and the latter in Pembroke, located near the state’s southern border.

View more photos from the Class of 2020’s Learning Lab I in this Facebook album.

As tribal governance and sovereignty—particularly in the context of current events—are not topics commonly addressed in mainstream media or secondary school curricula, many members of the class acknowledged they knew little about these matters before completing their pre-trip reading assignments. The leaders with whom they met spoke about challenges related to economic development, legal jurisdiction, and intertribal relations. While their Learning Lab I discussions were candid and thought-provoking, the scholars came away from the trip recognizing that they’d only scratched the surface of these complicated issues.

“When you’re an outsider it can be easy to read or hear about an issue and think, ‘Well why haven’t they tried this?’ or ‘Why don’t they just do that?’” wrote Kali Fillhart ‘20, in a class forum post. “But actually speaking with the people involved, you realize that it goes way deeper than your simple solution would ever be able to fix. That is such an important lesson when talking about leadership: there are so many things that a leader has to take into account, but oftentimes people only see what isn’t being done.”

Several scholars expressed an interest in translating their newly-acquired awareness of North Carolina’s tribal issues into activism.

“This trip taught me that leadership is being a voice for those whose voices are muted,” reflected Hannah Bain ‘20. “It taught me that leadership is not always succeeding, but that it is always fighting for what you think is right. And it taught me that leadership is investing in difficult conversations and being committed to learning about the problems that many people still face.”

In addition to speaking with representatives of the Cherokee and Lumbee communities, the scholars visited the ancient Cherokee settlement of Kituwah, site of a sacred mound; the Museum of the Cherokee Indian; and the Museum of the Southeast American Indian; enjoyed traditional Cherokee and Lumbee cuisine; and watched performances of traditional Lumbee dances.

About 30 Park alumni, parents, and family members joined the Class of 2020 for various components of this Learning Lab. Karli Moore ‘16, a member of the Lumbee Tribe and past chair of NC State’s Powwow, accompanied the freshmen for the entirety of their trip. And Cory Blankenship ‘07, director of operations for the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, helped coordinate speakers and logistics for the scholars’ visit to the Qualla Boundary.

Learning Laboratory I Speakers

- The Honorable William Boyum (Cherokee), Chief Justice Retired, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Courts

- Robin Gary Cummings (Lumbee), Chancellor, University of North Carolina at Pembroke

- Nancy Strickland Fields (Lumbee), Director and Curator, Museum of the Southeast American Indian

- Harvey Godwin, Jr. (Lumbee), Chairman, Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina

- Terri Henry (Cherokee), Secretary of State, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

- Brittany Hunt (Lumbee), Assistant Director for Native American Student Affairs, Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, NC State

- Lawrence Locklear (Lumbee), Program Coordinator, Southeast American Indian Studies, University of North Carolina at Pembroke

- Anita Welch Lossiah (Cherokee), Yellowhill Township Council Representative, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Council

- Reverend Robert Mangum, Minister and Community Activist, Robeson County, N.C.

- Tammy Maynor (Lumbee), Director, Governmental Affairs, Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina

- Danielle McLean (Lumbee), Legal and Compliance Officer, Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina

- Freda Porter (Lumbee), Tribal Director, Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina

- Hannah Smith (Cherokee), Attorney, Office of the Attorney General, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

- Julie Beth Smith ‘06 (Lumbee), Assistant to the Chancellor for External Affairs, University of North Carolina at Pembroke

- Richard Sneed (Cherokee), Vice Chief, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

- Christina Strickland Theodorou (Lumbee), N.C. Native Asset Coalition Project Director, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill