American Indians and the War on Drugs: The Death of Julian Pierce and the Rise of Lumbee Self-Determination Commentary – Emily McDill

Malinda Lowery is a member of the Lumbee Tribe, which is the largest Native American Tribe in North Carolina, and has a fascinating perspective, as she identifies as Lumbee but was raised off of the reservation in a primarily white, suburban environment. In her talk, she discussed the political autonomy of Native American tribes, and how the drug trade was a way many Lumbee people felt they could control their futures and make their own decisions without the influence of the historically oppressive U.S. government. Julian Pierce was a Lumbee politician who was murdered in 1988 while running for the position of Superior Court Judge in Robeson County, where the largest Lumbee population is located. Pierce was an advocate for Lumbee self-determination and demanded additional recognition and autonomy from the federal government. He also was a proponent of reduced sentences for drug offenders, because the legislation created by the “War on Drugs” unjustly targeted minority populations. Pierce’s murder was never solved, and Lowery’s examination of the evidence and police investigation cements the theory that he was murdered to prevent him from winning the judgeship, and the identity whoever committed the crime was protected by law enforcement.

I think that Lowrey’s identification with both the Lumbee Nation and the United States relates to Quillen’s unit on identity and Tamura’s discussion on citizenship and statelessness. Lowrey spoke about how she struggled with feeling like an outsider both in her primarily white private high school in Durham, NC, and also when she went to visit her cousins in grandparents, who lived in a strong Lumbee community in Robeson County. I think the aspect of self-determination and political autonomy for Native American tribes also complicates her definition of identity. Political factors can further convolute matters because one must grapple with their self-identification as well as one’s political identity, which is a label placed on an individual from an external source. 

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