Walk through the door of the Maxton Operations Center in Robeson County, N.C., and you’ll hear the unmistakable Lumbee Tribe dialect echoing through the halls – a way of speaking as unique as the Lumbee people, and one you won’t find anywhere else.
“We can travel to do work in Florida, Indiana, Alabama, you name it, and people know we’re from Robeson County because of our accent,” said Larry Trent Roberts, a Duke Energy lineworker. “You can pick us out anywhere. That’s my people.”
Roberts is part of a 14-person line crew that works out of the Maxton office; 12 identify as Lumbee and have lived in the area their entire lives, along with the rest of the staff at the operations center, like Heather Oxendine.
“I can go back 10 generations and my family was here,” said Oxendine, a customer delivery area operations support manager. “I’m sure most everybody here can probably do the same.”
The Lumbee ancestors – survivors of tribal nations like the Hatteras, the Tuscarora and the Cheraw – settled in the Robeson County area several centuries ago. Today, the tribe is still there and has more than 55,000 members living, working and contributing to the community.
“We have doctors, lawyers, teachers, politicians – and linemen,” said Roman Leviner, a senior journeyman lineworker. “To give back to our hometown is something we take very seriously, and Duke Energy gave us that opportunity.”
Line work is the only job Mitchell Chavis has ever known. He started with Carolina Power & Light right out of high school. Now, he’s working on his 42nd year at Duke Energy.
“When I was thinking about taking the job, my uncle told me I should do it and I would have a long career,” Chavis said. “He was right. It’s a fulfilling, exciting job.”
Chavis – known as “the mayor” around town – and his team say Duke Energy has a legacy of hiring community members. Tony Tew, a customer delivery supervisor, said Maxton, the largest operations center in the east zone, is also one of the most desirable work locations.
“It’s full of names like Locklear, Chavis, Lowery – Lumbee names – that joined the company at other locations,” Tew said. “But they’re itching to get on that transfer list back to Maxton – back home – as soon as they can.”
Once they’re in, the team says people stay for the long haul. It’s rare to see turnover – and they credit that to their family atmosphere, a quality that comes from their Lumbee culture.
“The biggest tradition we have as Lumbee is keeping family first,” Leviner said. “We teach and raise our children to be that way, so it’s no wonder it rolled over to our workgroup. We truly care about each other and are always looking out.”
Those values extend to customers. Whether the team is putting up new power poles or working to restore power, representing Duke Energy at a community powwow or in a parade, they are eager to inform and educate people about Duke Energy and the work they do to keep the lights on.
“To go above and beyond and help people during tough times,” Tew said, “is what it’s all about.”
If you look for the Maxton team on their off days, chances are you’ll find them together, among the freshly plowed fields and never-ending pine trees, taking advantage of everything their tribal land has to offer.
“There are no cities around here,” Leviner said. “We just live a good country life, hunting and fishing, and that’s how we like it.”
Mitchell Chavis said the power lines are an important piece of that tribal landscape, too – and he’s proud to be their caretaker.
“When you ride down the road, I don’t care where you go, you’re looking at the power lines,” Chavis said. “They’re all around us, and once line work is in your blood, it’s there to stay.”