Lumbee Tribe: Portrait of a Nation

Lumbee Tribe: Portrait of a Nation

The Jimmy Nelson Foundation proudly announces its support for the photographic story project “Lumbee Tribe: Portrait of a Nation’ by Avneet Mangat. Being part of the foundation’s “Celebrate Culture” call, this project revolves around the ceremonies and traditions of the Native American Lumbee Tribe in North Carolina. The New York based photographer Avneet Mangat highlights the symbolic relationship between the Lumbee culture and their environment in his work, for which he started photographing in spring this year.


What makes this project so special, is its purpose to cater to the portrayed Lumbee culture itself. Because of Avneet’s personal connections with Lumbee community members, he wanted to create a photographic documentation of their traditions for the Lumbee tribe members to own and use themselves. His work is intended as a work of representation and visual empowerment of Lumbee cultural expression in the modern world.


Avneet especially highlights the tradition of the Powwow Dances. “I started the process by visiting culture gatherings such as the powwow – an American Indian social gathering. It was an opportunity to meet people, take their pictures and develop friendships… I was presented a small pouch of tobacco by one of the tribal elders. Tobacco is a traditional token of friendship with the Lumbee tribe.”



In Avneet’s photography project, it also becomes clear that the culture-nature relationship the Lumbee community appreciates, is vital for the Lumbee people in honouring their heritage and maintaining their cultural expression for future generations. “I met people after the powwow and photographed them in the environments significant to them, as by the lake of their ancestors, where they go hunting and fishing” Avneet writes.


These places is were he had the chance to speak to people and where he learned more about their ideas and customs. “They talked of their culture and their traditions, and what they are doing to keep it alive and relevant. For example, the Lumbee tribe has about 60,000 members. The powwows are an opportunity for them to get together and meet one another. So even in the modern world of instant communication and social media, the old traditions of powwows continues and is very popular amongst people of different generations.”





Avneet did face challenges at the start of his project. In the beginning, many people of the Lumbee tribe feared a mis-use of his photos and being represented disrespectfully, or superficially, as novelties by the media. The reaction had to do with the sacredness of some of the regalia that was to be represented correctly and with sensitivity. “These things made me work harder than expected to gain the Lumbee tribes’ trust”, he remembers.


To overcome these challenges, Avneet decided to be a “good sympathetic listener” and he visited the communities frequently. Avneet visited the Lumbee communities at important events such as the Elders Fire Ceremony, where he sat down and listed to them as they narrated their history. They also explained to him the significance of objects such as the ‘Talking Stick’, their regalia, and a pouch of tobacco. Understanding significant elements to their culture, helped Avneet to portray the Lumbee people more accurately and with the respect they deserve.


According to Avneet, the project was very well received by the members of the Lumbee Tribe and other American Indians that were involved in the project. “Every single person photographed is using the photos for their social media profile and is proudly sharing the project on their social media!” Avneet writes us.


The photographic material of Avneet’s project has been made fully available to the members of the Lumbee community itself and is accessible online at


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Avneet Mangat is a New York based photojournalist who specialises is photo stories. “Every photo tells a story” is his motto. The Jimmy Nelson Foundation has pledges their support to Avneet and his project, because it recognises the value of a photographic record of Lumbee Native American customs for both the archival and proactive purposes. 


“The Jimmy Nelson Foundation encouraged me to look beyond the appearance and appreciate the deeper meaning behind the regalia, traditions, cultural practices. It’s work was the inspiration for my project ‘Lumbee Tribe: portrait of a Nation’ – Avneet