DAHLGREN, Va. – “It’s a good day to be Indian,” are the words James Herbert Oxendine hears every year he gathers with fellow members of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina.
The Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) system safety engineer reflected fondly on his roots in Lumberton, N.C., and the tribal homecoming held the week of July 4 in Pembroke, N.C. – just a short distance away.
Pembroke is the economic, cultural and political center of the tribe. The homecoming brings about 30,000 tribal members together to share stories, conduct oral histories, and to celebrate their traditions and history, Oxendine said.
“They are proud of who they are. They want to make tomorrow better, not just for themselves, but for the community,” he said of fellow tribal members.
With a history that dates back to 1885, the tribe is currently comprised of about 55,000 members who primarily live in Robeson, Hoke, Cumberland and Scotland counties in North Carolina. Hailing as the largest tribe in North Carolina and east of the Mississippi River, it is the ninth largest tribe in the nation. Its name is derived from the Lumbee River which winds its way through Robeson County.
In addition to his American Indian heritage, Oxendine’s father served in the Vietnam War and two uncles served in the Korean War and Vietnam War.
When in high school, an opportunity to get involved with the military presented itself. An American Indian engineer highlighted how the military relied on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education to help provide solutions to challenges. Oxendine then knew he wanted to pursue a career in the sciences.
After being awarded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Scholarship, Oxendine attended North Carolina State University. The student body government that involved Native Americans nationwide is what drew him to the college, where he graduated with a master’s degree in material science engineering.
Today, Oxendine is an active member of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society an organization he joined at an early age.
At NSWCDD, Oxendine is part of team who is focused on being the leader in warfare systems and integration – one that also joins the nation in observing November as National American Indian Heritage Month.
Every day in November, the Lumbee Tribe has spotlighted those who have made extraordinary contributions, including the first Lumbee doctors and lawyers.
Lumbee Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin, Jr., shared his thoughts about the national observance.
“American Indian Heritage Month is a great time to celebrate our rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of native people,” he said. “This month is also a great time to raise awareness about the unique challenges native people face, both historically and in the present, and how tribal citizens have worked to conquer these challenges.”