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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ruth Dial Woods, June 12, 1992. Interview L-0078. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Comparing federal and state recognition of Native American tribes

Woods talks about the difference between having federal and state recognition for Native American tribes. At the time of the interview, the Lumbee Indians had only state recognition and were agitating for federal recognition. Woods describes her thoughts on those efforts and what she thought she happen in order for the Lumbees to have proper government recognition. In addition, she offers a brief overview of the Lumbee Indians and their relationship to the government.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Ruth Dial Woods, June 12, 1992. Interview L-0078. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

ANNE MITCHELL COE:
You say that the program you administer is the largest funded Indian education program in the country, but that seems awfully ironic, and I'm sure it does to you, in light of the fact that the Lumbees are not federally recognized. Could you talk about that whole campaign?
RUTH DIAL WOODS:
Indians are state recognized. The Lumbee are state recognized and that gives them a special category. You have to remember in the 70's we were more astute and it was with the assistance of some folks that chose not to be racist who were drafting the legislation to include state recognized Indians because we're not the only state recognized Indians. But other than that, you would have no Indian tribes or groups east of the Mississippi other than the Choctaws, maybe, and the Seminoles in Florida who would be eligible for any government services. The Indian Education Project is funded by the U.S. Department of Education. Therefore, it is not bound to federal recognition criteria as are those education programs out of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of Interior. I don't find it ironic. It just goes to show those kinds of things that take place in government to separate and to create division and to create confusion. The only reason that we never had a treaty with the government is because, I guess, our forefathers were silly enough to sit here and reach out their hands and welcome them. We're descendants of those folks that first met the first European immigrants. We can't help it if some of our folks did not follow the Cherokee west, did not go through removal. All the Cherokees didn't take the Trail of Tears either. The interesting thing is that they never said that we were not Indian, so then you say that the government makes it into an economic issue. Back in 1712, during some of the war in the colonies, there was a general down in South Carolina that wrote a statement that says that "We must assist these Indians in cutting one another's throats lest the nation will not be saved." and it appears to me that that must have set the precedent for government treaties and relationships because even the federally recognized tribes did not have tribal rolls until the Indian Reorganization Act in the 30's. But all of a sudden if you don't have a tribal organization and tribal roll, there's just no way in heavens that you can be Indian. And you say the government set up those rolls simply so they'd be able to - what's the term they use for it - not portion out but ration out government commodities to Indians. It had nothing to do with who was Indian and who wasn't. It was just a matter of how many people you've got here, because you've got tribal rolls that have non-Indian people on them. My father's family name is on the Delaware District of Cherokee rolls, but I'm not Cherokee, would not spend any time trying to do that, because I come out of a situation where my descendancy has been to Indians of Robeson County who by legislative act are now called Lumbee. So we're going to continue this battle because that's the way the government wants it. As long as you can keep a division between federal and non-federal, state and organization, east and west, then government does not have to get very serious about the, quote, Indian problem, end quote. And it can remain an Indian problem.
ANNE MITCHELL COE:
So, what is the relationship between the Indians of Robeson County and, say, the Eastern band of Cherokee Indians?
RUTH DIAL WOODS:
Well even the Eastern band of Cherokee won't say that we're not Indian. They just say that we ought to go through a process and if the Eastern band of Cherokee had to go through that process they couldn't make it either because the process was developed to perpetuate only those tribes that were already in and to keep everybody else out. They would say the same thing about the Humas in Louisiana, the Pamanqueys in Virginia or anybody else and not only would the Eastern band of Cherokee say that, but there's some western tribes that say the same thing. And yet, if they had to go through the process, they couldn't jump through the hoops.
LAURA MOORE:
Because they were already in.
RUTH DIAL WOODS:
And my point is this. I know who I am. I know where I was born. I know the spirit in which I was encased and if I ever become federally recognized and get a B.I.A. number stamped on my bottom, it's not going to make me any different than Ruth Woods is today or any more or any less Indian than I am today and I'm not worried about my identity because I know who I am and what I am. And they can't take that away from me by federal recognition or without it.
LAURA MOORE:
But do you think the Lumbees should continue to agitate for federal recognition?
RUTH DIAL WOODS:
I think we ought to file a federal government law suit. I think we ought to go into the courts with it.
ANNE MITCHELL COE:
Where does it stand now?
RUTH DIAL WOODS:
I think we've been kind enough for a hundred years and I think it's time now to just sue the federal government and take all this money that we spent on federal recognition and put it in law suits if nothing more than to document the ineffectiveness and the inefficiency and the unwillingness of the federal government to face up to its responsibilities. You see, early on in the 1800s the letters that came to the Indians in Robeson County were "We have other Indians who are not as civilized that need our scarce resources." So we're penalized because we greeted and befriended settlers and tried to help ourselves. We were penalized. If we'd been savages, I don't know. But that's exactly what they said, "We have other folks less civilized."