LAURINBURG – For some, the annual Lumbee Homecoming is exactly as it sounds: a way to reconnect with those who have moved away from the traditional home of Lumbee Indians. For others, it means discovering new friends that they’ve never met before.
For Jamie Oxendine, the event is both.
“For most of us, the biggest thing about our Lumbee Homecoming is that family unit, a very integral part of Lumbee culture,” said Oxendine, who was born and raised in the John’s Station area.
The visit to the nine-day festival is one of several trips to North Carolina that the 1983 Scotland High graduate makes each year. The 2016 festival marked its 48th anniversary.
“I tell people, ‘This is home, I just happen to work in Ohio,’” said Oxendine who is staying at his parents’ home in Laurinburg. “The thing to me is always meeting – talking to a perfect stranger. We’ll start talking. I’ll be dressed in Native American clothing. They’ll ask for a picture, then we’ll get to talking. I’ll ask them where they are from; they’ll ask me where I’m from and then we’ll start mentioning some names. Then low and behold there’s a good chance that we’ll find out we’re related. That’s what’s so exciting. You become good friends.”
James Hardin, executive director of LRDA, said although rain, heat and humidity dampened the festival, it didn’t keep people away. Hardin said one thing that has grown throughout the years is diversity.
“If you go to the powwow, you see all races there,” Hardin said. “You see Latinos, Lumbees, whites, African-Americans. That has really grown over the last few years. We teach people about our history, going back before the whites came into the area.”
A family feeling
Oxendine, who danced at this year’s homecoming, also performs at Native American ceremonies, celebrations, and powwows throughout the country. A Jack-of-many trades — writer, educator, storyteller, professional musician and civil rights activist — Oxendine lectures on Native American culture for schools, universities and organizations across the United States. A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he also works as a recruiter for Ohio State University.
According to Oxendine, Native Americans in the eastern part of the country had early contact with European explorers and settlers that resulted in Lumbees learning English earlier than western tribes, he said. Some people call it assimilation while others call it forced culture, Oxendine said.
“Whatever you call it, we knew that the one thing that could never been taken away from us would be that family unit,” Oxendine said.
That tradition is evident at the annual celebration in Pembroke, Oxendine said, as Lumbees from California to Maine meet and exchange family history.
“We always like to ask the question, ‘Who are your people?’ Then we start going through Lumbee names.”
Lumbees also recall their history through storytelling. Among Oxendine’s favorites is one from the 1950s when Lumbee Indians broke up a KKK rally near Maxton.
“No one got hurt but it definitely showed the rest of the country that Native Americans, specifically the Lumbee, were not going to put up with the Klan or that type of racism,” he said.
Reach Terri Ferguson Smith at 910-506-3160