Monday, the New York Times ran a story about Native American language resuscitation occurring at Stony Brook University, where scholars are trying to revive the Shinnecock and Unkechaug languages of two of the Indian tribes that called Long Island home in the past. The process is proving to be difficult–few written examples of the language exist, and the same goes for possible speakers.
In Robeson County, North Carolina, members of the Lumbee community are dealing with a different problem than the one New York tribes have. On the First Peoples blog today, UNC Press author Malinda Maynor Lowery detailed the problem of closed door, oligarchic representation in the fight to get the Lumbee Tribe federal recognition. Lowery writes in Who’s Pulling the Strings in Today’s Lumbee Recognition Process? about unelected, powerful community leaders who negotiated deals in private:
The unelected leaders were the puppeteers, pulling the strings behind the scenes. They were often the most literate members of the community, the ones with the closest personal and political ties to whites, and they believed that they understood the “system” and could make it work for us. To a degree, walking this tightrope between black and white forced these brokers into political compromises that worked against our interests. But the brokers also had their own reasons for making these compromises; often they wanted to shore up their own power and authority within the Indian community by delivering on a promise, and they wanted to increase their clout with the white elites, locally and nationally, who were giving lip service to our recognition efforts.
What these leaders never grasped was that the more you squeeze out of the system, the more autonomy it squeezes out of you, and we are left with compromises that ultimately get us nowhere (the two previous instances of recognition, in 1938 and 1956, are cases in point). So how will it turn out this time?
Head over to read the rest. Lowery will be speaking about her book, Lumbee Indians in the Jim Crow South: Race, Identity, and the Making of a Nation next week at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.