Helping communities across the state connect their heritage arts and traditions to local development, education, and active citizenship
Robeson County, NC
Kaya Littleturtle has been active in the Lumbee Tribe his entire life, and his family has been right there with him. His grandfather, Ray Littleturtle, was a wisdom keeper and his grandmother is a talented native storyteller. It was in that family-centered environment that Kaya became inspired to carry on Lumbee traditions in order to build and preserve community. “We have a saying around here: ‘Who’s your people?’” explains Littleturtle. “Lumbees take care of Lumbees.”
Littleturtle has been learning about storytelling and native music traditions since he was a child. As a self-described “jack of all trades growing up,” his family was constantly on the road performing at powwows. These experiences demonstrated for Littleturtle the kind of person he wanted to grow up to be. “I have not seen many other tribes push education the way that we do,” he says, explaining how his Lumbee heritage has instilled in him pride and a constant drive to learn. With his background and considerable skill, he is known in the tribe as a drum circle leader. Even so, he says, he strives every day to become a better role model and teacher in his tribe and community.
In many ways, Littlerturtle is already a leader—he has evolved into a positive example for native youth in the region. He credits his friend Reggie Brewer as a great mentor who encourages his work in the tribe and with its youth. “There is a high crime rate in this county,” he explains, and “a lot of these teachings that me and others are trying to teach in the community, I really do believe, will help.” Kaya’s voice is a strong tool as well. While his speaking voice is quiet and deliberate, when he sings native songs, he is clarion. Through traditional arts, Littleturtle wants to show Robeson County youth that there are constructive ways to learn, spend their time, and explore their heritage.
Littleturtle still travels widely on the powwow circuit throughout the country. While the powwow is not traditional to Southeast native tribes, it is a valuable opportunity for the Lumbee and Tuscarora youth to experience other native tribes, and represent their traditions proudly. And if the next generation of youth can count on the leadership of Kaya Littleturtle, the future for the people of Robeson County is positive as well.