The Lumbee tribe is the largest tribe in North Carolina, the largest tribe east of the Mississippi, and the ninth largest tribe in the nation. Most of the nearly 45,000 members live in Robeson, Hoke, and Scotland counties.The tribe name comes from the Lumber River, which goes through Robeson County. The ancestors of the Lumbee were mainly Cheraw and related Siouan-speaking Indians who lived in what is now Robeson County.The Lumbee have been recognized as a tribe by North Carolina since 1885, but are still undergoing the process of seeking federal recognition.
Lumbee Storyteller Barbara Braveboy-Locklear spins a tale. Read her interview below.


How long have you been involved in storytelling?

Actually I've been doing it most of my life. Even as a child I had a curious, creative nature. I can remember gathering together with an older sister and younger brother and sitting under a tree creating stories. Thirty four years ago with the birth of my first child I began the ritual of telling stories. For my three children, listening to stories was an integral part of their growing up. Many of the stories they heard were from grandparents describing legends about animals, origins, and natural phenomenons.

What was your original motivation for storytelling?

Listening to my parents and maternal grandmother tell family stories about what it was like when they were children, and about natural phenomenons. I remember how entertaining and often-touching the stories were. Then as a young mother myself, the wonderful opportunity storytelling afforded me to share oral histories, feelings, and a love of books and stories with my own children. And, more recently--over the past 10 years--how storytelling has served as a vehicle for me to inspire love of heroes, pride of ancestry, and devotion to country and people in young students, and American Indian youth in particular.

Where do you do most of your storytelling?

My stage varies. It may be a cultural event like a recent Powwow I attended earlier this month near the North Carolina shoreline. It is sometimes an indoor theatre like Givens Performing Arts Center on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. Sometimes it's an art museum. Most often it's a public school auditorium or classroom, or a nature setting alongside a creek, a river bank, the front porch of someone's home, or under a cedar tree in a backyard. Wherever there is an audience, there,too, can be a story.

One of the things I like about your stories was that they were unique to the coast and Robeson County. Could you tell me a bit more about their origins and how you add your special touch to them?

I am a Lumbee Indian. My ancestral land is Robeson County, North Carolina. Most Lumbee folklore centers around the Lumber River, which my people, the Lumbee, refer to as the "Lumbee River." This black stream which runs through the county is the mainstream of their geographical existence and is nature. The water is the focus of many of my stories because it is the "heartbeat" of the Indian community -the thing they can relate to and claim ownership to. Tribal legends and stories touch the heart and spirit as well as the mind. In performing storytelling I attempt to set my stories in the same geographical area of the audience; therefore enabling young audiences, in particular, to visualize the characters in a familiar setting. In Robeson County, it happens to be the ancient Lumbee River. At the coast, it's the ocean. The natural environment is the inspiration for many of my stories. I believe geographical familiarity enriches both the story and the storytelling.

What would you say are the main differences between your stories and those of other tribes? Of other ethnic groups?

Storytelling as an educational tool is as old as civilization, and it certainly is not unique to the North American Indian culture. It was a key ingredient in the development of all cultures. Every culture has relied on an oral tradition to preserve its history, knowledge and experience. The Old Testament, a history of the Jews, was kept alive through storytelling before there was a written language. Historically the American Indian has enjoyed a system of education anchored by storytelling and practical lessons. The stories instilled appropriate fear of real dangers and obedience of elders, and society's rules. The differing line between stories told by my people, the Lumbee, who have never lived on a federal reserve, and those Indian tribes who do live on federal reserves, is narrow. The fact remains today that tribal legends and stories touch the heart and spirit as well as the mind of all Native peoples no matter where they live. The stories give examples, both humorous and heroic, of ways to deal with problems. They develop self-awareness and self-esteem as they provide a sense of one's place in the world.

Could you tell me about the role of the storyteller in traditional Native society as well as today?

The art of storytelling is a much-respected position among tribes and is usually reserved for the elders. The distinctive work of the grandparents is that of acquainting the children with the traditions and beliefs of the nation. It is reserved for them to repeat the time-hallowed tales with dignity and authority, so as to lead the child into the inheritance of the stored-up wisdom and experience of the race. Today, though storytelling faces a lot of competition from outside sources, folklore remains alive in the homes of families who have valued it deeply. While television, increasingly busy schedules and other factors have gotten in the way of the art of storytelling, it is not a dead art. The stories help keep the American Indian culture alive, which helps to keep the history and culture from being diluted or destroyed in America's "melting pot."

Have you gone to storytellers' conferences or workshops, whether with other tribes or different ethnic groups?

I have performed at a storytelling festival near the N.C. coast. I've created and led storytelling seminars for public school teachers.