Maria Sturm: 

"You don't look Native to me"

2020 Daylight Photo Award Winner Maria Sturm


"You don't look Native to me"

"You don‘t look Native to me“ is a quote and the title of a body of work, that shows excerpts from the lives of young Native Americans from around Pembroke, Robeson County, North Carolina, where 89% of the city’s population identifies as Native American. The town is the tribal seat of the Lumbee Indian Tribe of North Carolina, the largest state-recognized Native American tribe east of the Mississippi River, which means they are federally unrecognized and therefore have no reservation nor any monetary benefits.

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.


This is a sacred circle of the Lumbee People, kept by the Lumbee Tribal Elders‘ council. We respect this site as we respect christian churches, and we hope you will do the same. Traditional spiritual gatherings are held here four times each year. This sign was set up on the cultural center, since the cultural center was cleaned for the first Lumbee Spring Moon Pow Wow in May 2016, the sign also disappeared. The spiritual gathering ground still exists though. It is an important photo because you can see the Lumbee name was earsed in the sign, because some people don‘t identify with the Lumbee name, especially the Tuscarora, who fall under the umbrella of the Lumbee name, like several other different tribes who lived together in the same area.


Pre-Colonization there were several tribes inhabiting the same area, the Cheraw, the Tuscarora, the Haliwa- Saponi, the Cherokees to name a few. You can find three native language families: Algonquian, Siouan and Iroquois, which suggest migartion due to wars, climate change etc. All these tribes weren‘t recognized.


Daniel in front of his parents house in St. Pauls, NC. Daniel identifies as Lumbee.

Justin and Tristin 

Justin and Tristin are hanging in a broken car next to Tristins house. There‘s not much to do around Robeson County. It‘s one of Americas most violent counties, located along I-95, which is also a historic drug route connecting Miami and New York.

Reflection #2

Robeson County has a population of 134,576 people with a median age of 35.6 and a median household in- come of $31,298. Robeson county is the poorest and most violent county in North Carolina. Between the 90s and the 2000s most of the industry had left (e.g. Converse in Lumberton, where mostly Lumbee Indians worked).

Robert looking at himself

Traditionally the people of Robeson County were far- mers, they produced tobacco for example, but with globalisation it became cheaper to produce tobacco in China and local farmers couldn‘t compete with the price. People are being thrown back on their own re- sources and are left waiting wondering what to do.

Reggie‘s house

Reggie lives in a house build by the tribal government. He‘s lives there together with his daughter Mescal and his two granddaughters Kassidy and Frankie. You can see Frankies crib in the corner, a picture of Edward S. Curtis and a cross among all the Native objects.

Seneka and Tony singing Tuscarora songs.

Selfie at Culture Class

Social media plays a big role for Jon-Morgan, Tristin, Stevie, Justin and Jacobi and in the native identity to- day. Hashtags like #lumbeepride, #nativeboy or #na- tivestrong are very popular. The Lumbee pride is also in particular stemming from the story of Henry Berry Lowery. It is said that Henry Berry was hiding in the swamps when he led the resistance in North Carolina during the American Civil War. He is remembered as a Robin Hood figure, particularly for the Tuscarora and Lumbee people, who consider him one of their tribe and a pioneer in the fight for their civil rights, personal freedom, and tribal self-determination. On the cultural site in Pembroke there is an amphitheater where his story was reenacted as a musical. For the past years the cultural site was run down and closed, but in 2016 the Lumbee people held their own big Spring Moon Pow Wow and the story of Henry Berry Lowry was performed after so many years.

Manny and Courtney

Manny and Courtney in front of Nakoma‘s house in Fayetteville, NC. Manny identifies as Lumbee. His uncle Nakoma started a Culture Class in Cumberland county and he‘s atteding regularly playing the drums and sin- ging, dancing and teaching as well.

Kearsey as a vampire (Tuscarora Nation of NC)

I met Kearsey and her mother Tamra at the Running Waters Pow Wow in Fayetteville on Halloween Eve. The Tuscarora officially fall under the umbrella of the Lumbee. Many Tuscarora don’t identify with the Lum- bee name. Recognized Tribes, but the Tuscarora too have prejudices against the Lumbee people. Kearsey and Tamra were dancing among the Lumbee are set- ting a hopeful example in these inner tribal conflicts.

Patricia, Mescal and Frankie

Patricia, Mescal and Frankie in front of their house in Pembroke, NC. Mescals father Reggie is leading the Culture Class in town, teaching about the Native ways, dancing and singing and drumming, the philosophy. Mescal is 19, she has two daughters Kassidy (4) and Frankie, who‘s just a few months old and Patricia (15) is Mescals cousin.

Adrian holding my hand

This is Adrian holding my hand. He was happy we took this picture, because he could show this image to the police after being robbed of his rings and cash. Adrian identifies as Lumbee.

This is Adrian holding my hand. He was happy we took this picture, because he could show this image to the police after being robbed of his rings and cash. Adrian identifies as Lumbee. For some of the people all they know of their native identity goes back to popcultural symbols or pan native symbols, because that all the people have learned, if they hadn‘t the strength to teach themselves. Adrian was wearing his indian chief ring with pride. His identity actually manifests in symbols like this.

Maria Sturm

Maria Sturm was born 1985 in Romania and studied photography at the University of Applied Sciences Bielefeld, Germany and at the Rhode Island School of Design as a Fulbright and DAAD scholar. She is part of Women Photograph and the artist collective Apparat.