The number seven in Native American culture is significant and memorable. We live our lives preparing for our seven generations ahead, reflect on the past seven generations and what has been taught, and honor the seven directions: north, south, east, west, above, below, and “here in the center,” also known as the place of the sacred fire.
This year, however, the number seven was a very solemn reminder of what has not been done.
This year, on September 7, 2019, the Haliwa-Saponi Indian tribe saw another year pass with no more answers than we had seven years ago, when one of our own, Faith Danielle Hedgepeth, was found murdered in her Chapel Hill apartment while attending UNC Chapel Hill.
As a member of our tribe, a loving friend to her entire family, and the mother of a student who also attended UNC Chapel Hill, I hold this case close to my heart. It hurts more than I can explain. I remind myself that if I feel this way, her family must struggle to manage this nightmare?
Before September 7, 2012, we all knew and loved Faith as that beautiful girl whose smile would light up an entire room. If she sensed you were down, she would offer a hug, a smile, or a joke. She loved to laugh! She was instrumental in starting her drama team at church and was also interested in joining the first American Indian Sorority, Alpha Pi Omega Sorority, Inc. prior to her murder. She was a leader, but also a solid team member. She was a sister, a friend, a cousin, niece, granddaughter, student and intelligent Indian woman. She wanted to be the first in her family to obtain her college degree, and take what she had learned back to her tribal community.
In other words, Faith mattered.
On the morning of September 7, 2012, at approximately 11:00 am, the Chapel Hill police department received a 911 call from a young woman who identified herself as Karena Rosario. The young woman began the emergency call by saying, “Hi, I just walked in my apartment. My friend is unconscious. There’s blood everywhere.”
According to Rosario, upon returning home she found Faith Hedgepeth lying dead in the bedroom. The 911 Operator, feeling that that young woman was clearly in shock, took time to work with Rosario in uncovering the gruesome scene. Once the operator learned that Faith was cold to the touch, she asked Rosario to back away from Faith and wait for the authorities to arrive, which the caller did.
Faith’s parents were notified by telephone that their precious baby girl was found murdered in the apartment she and Rosario shared, and asked to come to the Chapel Hill Police Department. They were not told how she was murdered, but were told that she was badly beaten.
Unfortunately for Faith’s family and all that loved her, the way she died was not disclosed until 2 years after her death. At that time, it was revealed she was killed by blunt force trauma to the head, but the facts of the object used was not disclosed.
The entire case of Faith Hedgepeth’s murder has been shrouded in secrecy. When probed, the police would only release small bits of fact.
To date, no one has been arrested in her murder, even though, according to the Chapel Hill police department, over 2,000 people have been interviewed, DNA has been taken on over 700 men and semen was found at the scene.
I wish I could tell you that this is an unusual case and that this never happens in Native America, but unfortunately, Faith’s case happens to be one of many that affect our culture. The epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women is very real and the cases of Native women are not given proper or comparable attention to the cases of non-Native women. This is just a fact.
But that fact does not take away the pain. Faith was very real to her tribe, the Haliwa-Saponi, the people of Hollister, NC, the student body at UNC Chapel Hill and the Native American population in North Carolina. Her loss just keeps on hurting.
Faith’s murder continues to affect everyone who knew her.
I have seen how her murder has affected our younger people. They were broken. But that hurt then turned into something magical, where so many went on to be accepted at the best schools, including many at UNC Chapel Hill. It instilled in them to finish what Faith started. They are all wiser, but not as trusting as they might have been if this had not happened.
The elders didn’t weep openly, but their hearts broke. I know my own daddy was just broken and went to his grave without answers. All the elders tried to remain strong for the community, but Faith’s murder broke their hearts.
The only reason that we have not stopped breathing or rolled into collective balls of nothingness is because of the faith that Faith left us all. Although her murder was described as brutal, ruthless and violent, we all know that is not how Faith lived. We know that her spirit is still that beautiful girl who lights up a room, who will offer us a hug if we are down, or a giggle to make us smile.
Her family began a scholarship in her honor, entitled “Faith’s Smile.” This project is a labor of love that has brought a sense of unity and pride to Faith’s legacy
We all still pray we will see that day when justice is served to help us all heal from her murder.
We also pray that it will not take another seven years.
For more information about about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women; https://www.csvanw.org/mmiw/.
For more information: http://www.justiceforfaith.com/scholarship.html.
A. Kay Oxendine is from the Haliwa-Saponi and has been writing since she was eight. She just published her first two novels in 2019, and is working on her third, and has a set of children’s books about her family.