Nov. 4—"Resilient and Enduring — We are still here."
That's the message that organizers of Robeson Community College's 3rd Annual Native American Heritage Month Celebration tried to convey to those attending the cultural exhibition held on its campus today.
"It is up to us to keep who we are alive," stated John Oxendine with the Lumbee Tribe as he gave the ceremonial blessing. "We respect the fact that God made us Native and that's why we do this. He made us Native, so we still do Native things to keep our culture alive. We respect that we are Native, and it's our way to honor God and say thank you."
Heritage, Oxendine says is important, not just for Native people, but for everyone.
"I know there are a lot of non-native people here today," Oxendine told the audience. "Everyone has a culture; everyone has a heritage and everyone has something where they came from and it is up to you find out what that is and where you come from...The Lumbee Tribe is a tribe that banded together, meaning we are made up of many tribes, we are named after the Lumbee River, which is now called Lumber River... many tribes are named after geographical locations."
The event drew hundreds of visitors, including school children from across the region — some from as far away as Scotland County.
In the opening ceremony, the Lumbee Warriors presented the flags as the National Anthem was sung by Mariah Graham, a student at RCC. A poem written by Amanda Bullard was read during the ceremony, which aimed to raise awareness of missing indigenous women in tribal communities.
The poem "Red Hand Campaign" read in part — "That is not just a feather flowing in the wind, it is a Native Woman's soul in someone else's hands... not able to be free or own her own land or I should say reservation, unable to depend on justice in this nation. Red Hand Campaign, please look it up... On reservations, 84% will experience violence in their lifetime... that's 4 out of 5...Missing indigenous women is an epidemic... 5,295 lost in one year, that is a new trail of tears..."
Ashley Lomboy, the global information security manager for Corning Optical Fiber and Cable served as the guest speaker for the event, speaking on the Waccamaw Siouan STEM Studio.
"Who were the first scientists?" Lomboy asked the audience. "Native Americans, we were the first scientists, we were the ones who understand the soil from the way we touch it, we understand the water, we understand the stars, we navigated and lived on this land for thousands of years because of our connection to what is now called STEM, but to the Earth, and how we take that and apply it."
"STEM is not just us moving one generation towards science, technology, engineering and mathematics, it's about moving all of our generations towards that," Lomboy said. "It's about how we are honoring our tribal history and how we honor our elders... that part has been very important to us."
Guests were also treated to a special powwow in the afternoon, which featured song and dance by the Lumbee Ambassadors and the Lumbee Drum Group, with rich storytelling and history lessons.
"I would like to thank you for allowing us to come today and to give back to who we are as Native people," Oxendine said in closing.
This event was sponsored by the RCC FAPSS Grant, which stands for First American Pathways to STEM success.