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ASU presents 3rd national Indian book award

April 27, 2011

Malinda Lowery, an assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has won the third annual Labriola Center American Indian National Book Award for her new book, “Race, Identity, and the Making of a Nation: Lumbee Indians in the Jim Crow South.”

The award is presented each spring by the Labriola National American Indian Data Center at Arizona State University to an author whose book “crosses multiple disciplines or fields of study, is relevant to contemporary North American Indian Communities and focuses on modern tribal studies, modern biographies, tribal governments or federal Indian policy.”

Lowery, a Lumbee who holds a doctoral degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said the book is an extension of her doctoral thesis, which she completed with the help and encouragement of her adviser, Theda Perdue.

“I knew early on I wanted to do something with Lumbee history,” Lowery said. “Not much has been written on Lumbees (a North Carolina tribe). I wanted to do something on race, and something based in the 20th century.

That there are Native Americans in North Carolina is surprising to many people, Lowery said. “People don’t think that Indians existed in the South after the removal period.”

(In 1830, the U.S. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, authorizing the government to relocate most Native Americans of the Deep South east of the Mississippi River from their homelands.)

Lowery said the thesis of her book is that the Lumbees have maintained their identity by both embracing and rejecting segregation.

The Lumbees fostered segregation by opening their own schools to teach their own values, and rejected it by “asserting an identity that wouldn’t fit white segregation,” Lowery explained.

In the segregated South, where the Lumbees were neither white nor black, the tribe built its own identity by creating layers of identity. “Family is the most important layer in Lumbee life,” Lowery said. “The second layer is ‘Where do you stay at?’ – where do you reside in the home territory? The other layers for us are race, tribe, nation.“

The Lumbee tribe, the largest tribe east of the Mississippi River, with more than 50,000 enrolled members, is still seeking federal recognition – a move that is supported by some tribes and opposed by others.

Lowery earned her bachelor’s degree in history and literature from Harvard University, and her master's degree in documentary film production. She was on the Harvard faculty before joining the history department at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The inaugural Labriola Center American Indian National Book Award, which carries a $500 cash prize, was presented to Daniel Cobb, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2008 for his book “Native Activism in Cold War America: The Struggle for Sovereignty.” Last year’s winner was Paul Rosier, associate professor of history at Villanova University for “Serving Their Country: American Indian Politics and Patriotism in the Twentieth Century.”

The award was established at the suggestion of Donald Fixico, ASU Distinguished Foundation Professor of History, who proposed the idea to highlight ASU’s strengths in American Indian history and studies “by recognizing the leading scholarship in modern American Indian history and native studies.”

Sponsors of the award are the Labriola Center, American Indian Studies Program, and the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. Members of the judging panel are Fixico and Peter Iverson from the history department, and David Martinez from American Indian Studies.

Following the award presentation each year, students, faculty and members of the public are invited to be a part of the interview with the author to learn “how the award-winning book was conceived, organized and written, its challenges and its thesis, and also gain the author's insight to his or her work while commenting on the current scholarship in Modern American Indian history and native studies,” Fixico said.