PEMBROKE — Jojo Shifflett explores her American Indian heritage in “A Lumbee Gershom,” a memoir that doubles as an oral history of the titular tribe.
The self-published book evolved from an essay the attorney wrote in 2009 for the National Museum of the American Indian. “Gershom” is a reference to the Bible character, who was the elder son of Moses and Zipporah.
“My father is white and my mother is Indian,” Shifflett said. “I never felt like I fit into either world, just as Moses didn’t fit in with the Egyptians or the Hebrews.”
Shifflett, who was raised in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., learned about the tribe’s customs and rituals through her grandparents, who lived in Pembroke. She later became “active in the American Indian Movement,” participating in civil protests with her grandfather during the 1970s.
“That’s what influenced me as a child to become a federal Indian lawyer,” she said.
After graduating from Georgetown University in 1999, Shifflett served as a majority staff attorney for the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. She wrote “A Lumbee Gershom” in an effort “to teach younger Lumbees about their traditions and their history.”
“The ideal takeaway would be that the young people learn what the traditions were and the Lumbee way of life,” she said. “The book reaches back as far as my mother’s memories, which go into the 1930s and 1940s.”
The history lessons are disguised as short stories about Shifflett’s childhood.
“I wanted to teach through storytelling,” she said. “I hope it doesn’t come across as academic. I hope it comes across as storytelling.”
Shifflett will promote the book with an appearance at Upscale Resale in Lumberton on July 3. She plans to sell copies of “A Lumbee Gershom” in Pembroke during the tribe’s Homecoming celebration, which runs from June 25 to July 2. The book is available for preorder at alumbeegershom.com.
Features editor Jaymie Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5771 or by email at [email protected]