Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Lumbees want ancestral river's name to change

The Lumbee's Tribal Council recently passed an ordinance asking the General Assembly to change the name of the Lumber River "back" (in their opinion) to the Lumbee River. The Lumbees say that "Lumbee River" is the ancestral name.

"Under the ordinance, tribal leaders are now referring to the river by its ancestral name in all correspondence and tribal publications," said The Robesonian.

But even if the state approves the change, to become recognized as the Lumbee River at the federal level the tribe would have to make a requestto the U.S. Board of Geographic Names, the federal board with the responsibility of maintaining uniform geographic name usage throughout the federal government. To approve changing the river’s name, the board would have to be convinced that the name change requested by the tribe is more than just an act to correct or re-establish historical usage.

Significant documentation exists that before the early 1800s American Indians in the region called the river the Lumbee — an Indian term that refers to the river’s dark color.

According to Stan Knick, director of the Native American Resource Center at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, both Angus McLean, a N.C. governor from Lumberton, and Hamilton McMillan, a member of the state General Assembly, referred to the Lumbee River in the 1880s. And according to Wikipedia, the poet John Charles McNeill, who lived from 1874 to 1907, used the Indian name Lumbee in his writings about the river.

“I think it would be a great idea to change the name of the Lumber River back to its original name,” Knick said. “This river is very important to the Lumbee tribe, especially the stretch that flows through the part of the region still home to so many tribe members.”

Jimmy Goins, chairman of the Lumbee Tribal Council, also supports renaming the river.

"Personally, from a historical aspect, I think it would be something nice," Goins said. "It would be a good gesture toward the Lumbee tribe."

State Rep. Ronnie Sutton, who is Lumbee and represents Robeson County, said last week that he thinks it may be difficult getting state legislation approving the name change.

"My feeling is that this wouldn't be popular with everyone. I don't think all of the people in the county and state are going to rally around this," Sutton said. "I have not yet taken, or been asked to take, an official position and I have no personal opinion at this time. Before I take a position I will want more information ... I'm not opposed to it, but I'm not out waving the flag for it either."

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