In 2011, Maria Sturm began to photograph the lives of young people from the Lumbee Tribe around Pembroke, Robeson County, North Carolina. Through the process of documenting their lives, Sturm began to question her own understanding of what it means to be Native American. Her new book ‘You Don’t Look Native to Me’ combines photographs with interviews and texts to preconceptions and show Native identity not as fixed, but evolving and redefining itself with each generation.
Pembroke is the tribal seat of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, the largest state-recognised tribe east of the Mississippi River. Although the Lumbee Tribe is state-recognised, they are federally unrecognised and do not have a reservation nor receive financial benefits from the federal government. The Lumbee name was voted for in 1952 to unite all tribes in the area in an attempt to gain federal recognition. Their tribal status remains one of the most debated in the United States.
“My work engages an unfamiliar mix of concepts: a tribe whose members are ignored by the outside world, who do not wear their otherness on their physique, but who are firm in their identity… I am tracing their ways of self-representation, transformed through history, questions of identity with which they are confronted on a daily basis, and their reawakening pride in being Native. I hope to raise questions to the viewer regarding their own identity and membership to the unspecified mainstream.”