PEMBROKE — Chancellor Kyle Carter on Thursday told members of the Lumbee Tribe that The University of North Carolina at Pembroke strives to maintain strong ties to the community and its American Indian heritage — but some tribal members weren’t convinced.
Carter, with several top university administrators watching, appeared before the Lumbee Tribal Council to update tribal leaders on UNCP’s relationship with the tribe and Pembroke community, including programs, staff employment and student enrollment.
“The relationship between the university and the tribe has never been better,” Carter said.
But some tribal members sitting in the audience said the university needs to do more to retain American Indian faculty, staff and students. UNCP, they said, is not doing all it can to maintain its roots as an American Indian institution.
According to Carter, American Indian student enrollment at UNCP has remained fairly constant — between 1,000 and 1,100 of the school’s total enrollment of about 6,200 students during the past 12 years. He said the university is ranked ninth nationally in the number of American Indian graduates.
Numbers of American Indians in the freshman class, however, have dropped during the past three years, a fact Carter attributed largely to increased enrollment standards at both UNCP and other schools in the state’s university system. As an example, Carter said that the average SAT scores of students graduating from Purnell Swett High School this past year would not qualify them for entrance into any of the schools in the UNC system.
Carter called on tribal officials and the Lumbee community to “encourage” their children to finish high school, go to college and “become interested in academics.”
Carter said 32 percent of UNCP’s faculty, staff and administration self identify as American Indian. He said, however, that out of 300 full-time faculty members, only 22 are American Indian.
“We are recruiting, but they are scarce,” the chancellor said. “There are very few American Indians who get PhDs in (academic) disciplines. Instead they become doctors, lawyers and dentists.”
Tribal members were also upset when Carter, who said he had another engagement to attend, left the council meeting without addressing questions from the audience.
“He needs to hear and answer the concerns the community has,” Bruce Barton said.
Councilwoman Louise Mitchell recommended that the council’s Education Committee meet to discuss the issues raised by Carter’s presentation. Councilman Terry Campbell then called for the council to ask the chancellor to return to answer questions.
“I want the chancellor back,” Campbell said. “There are two sides to every issue.”
Carter told the council that UNCP and the tribe work together on many projects, and the tribal culture and traditions are embedded in university programs and projects. This is evident, he said, in the more than 50 events that the university held during the past year to celebrate UNCP’s 125th anniversary.
Carter also pointed to UNCP’s downtown Pembroke building renovation project aimed at stimulating the economy and recruiting business partnerships between the university and local public schools, the establishment of the Southeastern American Indian Studies Center, and incorporation of Lumbee tradition and symbols into most university events as examples of UNCP’s “commitment” to maintain its heritage as an American Indian founded institution.
“I am really hopeful that if UNCP stays true to its mission … we can make inroads,” he said. “We can grow students that are capable of being professors and leaders in our communities.”
The council could take no official action on any issue Thursday because it lacked a quorum. Only 10 of the council’s 21 members were present.
In other business, state Rep. Charles Graham asked council members to “fully support” the tribal administration in its collaborative efforts with the state to develop the Indian Cultural Center and Riverside Golf Course properties located just outside Pembroke.
Under a bill approved by the state General Assembly, the Lumbee Tribal Government has the first shot at purchasing the Indian Cultural Center property that has been leased by a nonprofit for almost two decades. The property consists of four parcels southwest of Pembroke totaling more than 500 acres, the largest parcel being 387 acres and including the now closed Riverside Golf Course.
The legislation would not allow the Tribal Government to subdivide the land or sell or lease its natural resources. The tribe would also have to keep the property open to the public and allow North Carolina tribes and tribal organizations to use the property at cost or free.
If the tribe chooses not to purchase the property, it will be put up for public sale.
Graham also requested the council to support his efforts to combat littering in Robeson County. He said he is working with the state Department of Transportation to get “No Littering” signs put up throughout the county. Littering, Graham said, carries a $1,000 fine.
“You all serve this county,” Graham said. “Join me in an effort to keep Robeson County clean and green.”