Strengthening, sharing my Lumbee heritage

  • Published
  • By Airman Tala Hunt
  • 673 Air Base Wing

In Pembroke, North Carolina, amongst the longleaf pines and swamps, where the dark water of the Lumber River flows, exists a small tribe called the Lumbee. Pembroke is a small town with deep roots of history and heritage. Everybody knows everybody, and if they don’t know you, they know who your people are.

I am one of those people, one of the Lumbee.

I have always been proud of who I am and who I came from. I was born in Pembroke and lived there until I was three; after my baby sister was born, my parents moved me and my siblings to North Augusta, South Carolina. I lived there until I enlisted in the military. I grew up in a household where we were always reminded of who we descended from. My mother and father were both educators, which allowed me and my siblings to receive the best education.

While in school, I tried to share about my tribe as much as I could, but people didn’t seem interested. Don’t get me wrong; I had a few teachers and friends who were intrigued and asked me about my people, but it wasn’t anything like a majority.

If only I could describe the feeling and excitement I feel when asked “Where are you from?” or “What’s your ethnicity?”

In South Carolina, it was very rare for people to know the area I came from or who the Lumbee people were, but no matter what I held onto my pride of who I am.

I joined the military a little over a year ago, and little did I know that this would be a stepping stone to sharing my heritage and exploring deeper into the history of my people.

In Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, I had trainees, military training instructors, squadron chiefs, and more who would listen to me speak and ask where I was from. I was in shock when they knew exactly where I was talking about. People would ask my ethnicity and when I answered that I am 100-percent Lumbee Native American, they knew exactly who my people were. This was something that I had never experienced, but something I could definitely get used to.

After being in BMT and moving on to the Defense Information School at Fort Meade, Maryland, where I became a Public Affairs specialist for the U.S. Air Force, I was given the opportunity to share with my detachment about my people. I was very thankful for the opportunity and the support I got from my leaders and my fellow Airmen. Being able to share about my tribe gave me the opportunity to strengthen my knowledge of my people.

One of my best memories from tech school was on May 5, popularly known as Cinco De Mayo, but also National Awareness Day for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Peoples. My commander at the time, Capt. Brittany Curry, came out wearing red. Red is the color for the MMIW; it represents our stolen sisters. She made an announcement to our detachment saying she was wearing red for the MMIW and she suggested that they also do so in support. I was in tears. I had never had leadership or teachers announce something so important yet not really talked about.

As I continue my U.S. Air Force journey at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, and as I celebrate Native American and Alaska Native Heritage month, I have been given several opportunities to share about me and my culture. I am thankful for the opportunities and thankful to have something to be proud of.

I never saw myself being a service member, but I thank God every day I am.