May 22—PEMBROKE — All outdoor events are set to return for this year's 52nd annual Lumbee Homecoming, which took a two-year break caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Just last week when the governor relaxed some more things with the masks, we pretty much moved forward with all of the outdoor events," said James Hardin, Lumbee Regional Development Association executive director. "Right now all of those traditional events, that are outdoors, we will be moving forward with them."
This year's event, where thousands of people typically flood the streets of Pembroke on foot or in golf carts, will take place June 25 to July 3.
However, one of the most well-known festival traditions will be absent.
"The biggest change is the pageants that we normally have was pushed back to the first week of November," Hardin said. "The seating in the GPAC (Givens Performing Arts Center) right now is not where you could have a full house or majority."
The Miss Lumbee pageants decide the next group of Lumbee ambassadors. They are renown for quickly being sold out and filling every seat at the GPAC.
Because of the months of preparation needed for the pageants, the events would still be postponed even if all indoor restrictions were lifted tomorrow, according to Hardin.
"The practices and staging of the event takes months," he said. "I tell people those pageants are a production and not a show."
The plan is to hold the pageants the first week in November, which Hardin pointed out is National American Indian Heritage Month.
What will return this year are the parade, fireworks show, outdoor market, the 5K and golf tournament, but with some precautions.
The changes to the Lumbee Homecoming parade route, used during the 2019 festival, will allow spectators to distance themselves. People can also expect to see fewer vendors stretched along Prospect Road and LRDA, Hardin said.
"We're spreading people out to accommodate compliance issues," he said.
For the past few months, LRDA has met with stakeholders in the event, including the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, law enforcement agencies, Robeson County administration, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, The Town of Pembroke and the Robeson County Health Department. But LRDA was not able to give a definitive answer on what will happen until the past few weeks.
"It's been stressful because Homecoming, we plan out our plan in November, the previous year, and we start implementing it in February," Hardin said.
The executive director said it is "exciting" to be able to bring the event back.
"I think the community is receiving it well. I think people are glad to see it's coming back in part," Hardin said. "I think that in Robeson County particularly, adjoining counties and the Lumbee people across the whole country, people are ready to get out of the house and go out and see the people they went to school with when they were young, their friends, their relatives. Homecoming is about reconnecting to our past in a lot of ways."
The Town of Pembroke will begin golf cart permit sales for Lumbee Homecoming on June 14, and the permits will be valid from June 28 to July 3, according to Town Manager Tyler Thomas.
Temporary vendors will be permitted in certain areas of town during the Homecoming schedule, and must obtain a permit from town government to set up.
There are additional requirements for temporary vendors, and interested vendors should consult with the Town of Pembroke regarding requirements. Certain food vendors must obtain permits from the Robeson County Health Department before requesting a permit.
The LRDA grounds and the small lot across from Milton Hunt Memorial Park are the only permitted locations where temporary food establishments are allowed.
"Again, interested food vendors should first consult the Health Department," Thomas said.
The town has separate requirements for food trucks, which also must be permitted first through the Health Department, then by the Town of Pembroke. Food trucks must obtain a Lumbee Homecoming Special Event Permit from the town to operate during Lumbee Homecoming.
The itinerary for the Lumbee Homecoming events will be available next week, Hardin said.
Tomeka Sinclair can be reached at [email protected] or 910-416-5865.