First Posted: 12/17/2011
LUMBERTON — Christmas was in the air Saturday — as were the warm aroma of barbecue, the joyful melody of holiday songs, and the laughter and camaraderie of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina’s Christmas meal.
Thousands came to the festivities, which took place at the Southeastern North Carolina Agricultural Center and Farmers Market from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
In addition to the hearty meal of barbecue, cole slaw, macaroni and cheese, chicken bog, iced tea, desserts and all the fixin’s furnished by Fuller’s Old Fashion Barbeque, there were choral groups and singers throughout the day, booths around the center to offer information about the tribe’s housing services and programs, and the jolly old elf himself: Santa Claus.
Christmas trees and holiday lights adorned the main arena. Each table held a festive arrangement of pine needles, ribbon and a candle.
“Fellowship, gospel music, joy, happiness, freedom and all the things that are associated with them,” tribal Chairman Paul Brooks said. “It came about for the purpose of uniting our people back together like they should be united. There’s no better way to do it than to have them come together and have fellowship together.”
The day’s events also marked the 10th anniversary of when the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina became the official government of the Lumbee people, Brooks said. The Lumbee constitution was ratified in November 2001.
“It started from nothing, and here we are today, 55,000 strong,” he said. “It’s a joy to be able to celebrate together with our families. We are a family together.”
Enough food to feed 6,000 people was prepared, Brooks said. By the end of the meal, there was “just a dab” of food left, he said. The leftovers were sent to Sacred Pathways in Pembroke.
A third goal of the event was to offer information to attendees about the services offered by the tribe.
Tribal spokesman Alex Baker said the most common concern raised during the election was that people didn’t know much about the tribe’s services and programs.
“We see this as an opportunity to build some good will, bring unity together in the tribe, then at the same time educate them about the programs we offer,” Baker said. “… It’s important people become involved and take back to their community what the tribe’s about. Everybody knows somebody that needs help. We’ve got to look after one another. That’s what today’s about.”
The tribe offers several housing programs, including new housing, rental housing, renovations, and rental and mortgage assistance.
An estimated 5,000 people receive assistance from the housing program alone, Baker said.
“That’s not counting energy, our veterans program or elders,” he said.
The air throughout the hall was filled with the fellowship, gospel music, joy and happiness that Brooks hoped for. In lines that wove from the lobby into the main arena and around tables, people laughed and chatted with those near them, much like a family reunion.
Samantha Hunt came to the event with her mother and three grandchildren.
“[We] came here to socialize with the tribe,” she said while her grandson, 7-month-old Jaxn Tyndall, sat on Santa’s knee.
Hunt, who’s been involved with the tribe “my whole 46 years,” said she’s pleased with the way the tribe has evolved over the years.
“I’ve seen a lot of improvements since I was younger,” she said. “As far as your get-togethers and stuff like this with our housing and stuff like that, we didn’t have back in the day. I see a lot of progress going with the tribe.”
Pierre Locklear, of Pembroke, came with his father, Lonnie Locklear Jr. and son, Zachary.
“The food’s pretty good, the barbecue and the baked beans,” he said.
Like Hunt, Locklear has been with the tribe since he was a child, and said he’s seen improvements over the years.
“They’ve got the new tribal complex and built a lot of houses and put a lot of people to work,” he said.
That, according to Baker, is what the new chairman wants.
“He campaigned on unity,” Baker said. “He came in, he asked the staff would we be willing to feed the membership and give them a program. That’s what we’ve done.”