The history of the Lumbee has been a rocky road with their official identity changing from time to time. This “label crisis” stems from the fact that the early records of the Lumbee fail to unquestionably identify their origins, and they appear to have moved to the Robeson County area as either an offshoot or remnant of another tribe or a mixed racial group. Tribes in that time were in a state of crisis with the encroachment of Europeans into their traditional territories. There is no consensus within the tribe, and to say it has been and remains a hot potato would be an understatement.
Because of this, prior to 1885, they were not known by a specific name, although in the 1860s there is documentation that their members said that at least some of them were descended from the Tuscarora.
In 1885, they were given the name of the Croatan Indians by the North Carolina General Assembly as a result of the efforts of Hamilton McMillan’s to obtain a separate Indian school for their children. To do so, he suggested that they descended from the Lost Colonists and the Croatoan Indians and in honor of that, the tribe was named the Croatan. Today, this causes confusion, because when people see records with the name Croatan, they assume that the records refer to the Hatteras Indians on Hatteras Island. Unfortunately, the name was shorted to Cro and became pejorative.
In 1911, the General Assembly changed the name from Croatan to the “Indians of Robeson County.”
In 1913, the name was once again changed to the “Cherokee Indians of Robeson County” which made the Cherokee tribe quite unhappy.
In 1924, there was an unsuccessful attempt to have the Lumbee recognized as “Siouian Indians.” Although this was not successful, I do sometimes run across the tribe referred to by this name.
In 1953, the name was once again changed to the Lumbee, in honor of the Lumber River along with they were originally found, and that remains their name today.
You can view a timeline of significant Lumbee events on their Lumbee webpage.