November is Native American Heritage Month

Past Haliwa Saponi Powwow, NC

Last year we ran several articles in November to spotlight Native American heritage in North Carolina; a few of our favorites are below, as well as a TEDx presentation from a North Carolina Native on her experiences being the only Indigenous person in the classroom.

We will celebrate this year by publishing articles from Native women in NC on their experiences related to identity, grief, colonization, tokenization and more. Stay tuned.

Did you know in North Carolina we have the largest Native American population on the east coast? Many of our tribes carry more contemporary names because our populations descend from an amalgamation of larger and smaller tribal groups. Many of our people across the various tribal groups in our state are also related or carry similar surnames or family trees. This is because during colonial times, there was a lot of movement in our state.

You have to remember that NC was one of the 13 colonies, but not only that, Natives in VA and NC alike were some of the first Natives in the country to experience colonization. Colonists settled Jamestown and then there was “The Lost Colony.” There was a lot of tension because colonists kept trying to make Natives slaves, and experienced pushback, especially when they kidnapped Native children. They preferred children as they could be groomed to forget their customs and ways. An adult would know how to escape and find their people, a child not so much.

The bloodiest battle in NC happened in Greene County, where there is a monument today to pay homage to those Tuscarora who lost their lives in The Tuscarora War. Tuscarora fought back when colonists kept kidnapping their people for slavery. In the end, our men fought until they couldn’t. Even when wounded or facing death, they fought to protect the children and women. Over 2,000 Tuscarora lost their lives in this war. After the war, many Tuscarora went south to present-day Robeson and surrounding counties, many went up to join the Iroquois Confederacy in New York, and many stayed or scattered across the eastern part of the state.

There was a lot of other movement in the state throughout time of other Native groups. Many various groups banded together for protection. Some groups, like the Tuscarora even took in runaway or freed slaves; some took in Europeans as well.

An example of Natives taking in Europeans would be The Lost Colony. Did you know that “The Lost Colony” was never lost? Just ask a Tuscarora. According to our oral traditions, we took in a part of the colony after it was clear they could not survive on their own. The story goes that some of the colonists killed Tuscarora hunters/fisherman. What happened after this was what we call a “mourning war,” which happens after community members are killed by an enemy, in order to help those that were grieving, those who did the killing were literally absorbed in to replace those who had been lost.

This is different than how Europeans captured people. If the person who was captured went through the gauntlet and was accepted in by the clan mother, they would take the place of the person who had died. This meant that you took the status of that person, no matter who they were, and your previous identity would be buried in to the soil, never to be spoken about again, in order to keep the peace.

Hope you enjoyed that bit of history.

Here are our present-day tribal groups in NC:

  • Occaneechi Saponi (Orange, Alamance, Caswell)
  • Meherrin (Hertford)
  • Lumbee (Robeson, Scotland, Hoke, Cumberland)
  • Waccamaw Siouan (Columbus, Bladen)
  • Sappony (Person)
  • Haliwa Saponi (Halifax, Warren, Nash)
  • Tuscarora (Robeson, Bertie, eastern NC)
  • Coharie (Sampson, Harnett)
  • Eastern Band of Cherokee (Cherokee, Graham, Jackson, Haywood, Swain)


Here are some of my personal favorites from Native American Heritage Month in 2019: 

The American Indian Woman: A Gentle Warrior Walking in Two Worlds 

Black Natives: Erasure By Neocolonialism


Also, here is a TEDx presentation from a North Carolina Native on her experiences being the only Indigenous person in the classroom.

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