Honoring Native American Heritage
Nelson Hall Exhibit Conveys Appreciation for decolonizing and indigenizing Native American Heritage
This is a brief summary of how Native American Heritage Month came to exist. The following was taken from nativeamericanheritagemonth.gov:
What started at the turn of the century as an effort to gain a day of recognition for the significant contributions the first Americans made to the establishment and growth of the U.S., has resulted in a whole month being designated for that purpose.
The first American Indian Day in a state was declared on the second Saturday in May 1916 by the governor of New York. Several states celebrate the fourth Friday in September. In Illinois, for example, legislators enacted such a day in 1919. Presently, several states have designated Columbus Day as Native American Day, but it continues to be a day we observe without any recognition as a national legal holiday.
In 1990 President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November 1990 “National American Indian Heritage Month.” Similar proclamations, under variants on the name (including “Native American Heritage Month” and “National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month”) have been issued each year since 1994.
Native people of the Piedmont
Over 400 years ago, English colonists trying to settle on Roanoke Island encountered many Native Americans along the coast. At that time more than 30 Native American tribes were living in present-day North Carolina. They spoke languages derived from three language groups: Siouan, Iroquoian and Algonquian.
The Catawba people, also known as Issa, Essa or Iswa, have lived along the Catawba River for thousands of years, with their ancestral lands in the Piedmont region of North and South Carolina and into southern Virginia. The tribe’s name is probably derived from the Choctaw word meaning “divided” or “separated,” but the tribe calls itself, yeh is-WAH h’reh, meaning “people of the river.”
The Catawba were farmers and good hunters, and the women mastered basket-weaving and pottery, arts which they still preserve. Traditionally, the Catawba were matriarchal societies, with women occupying the dominant roles. By the 1760s, a reservation had been established for the tribe within present-day York and Lancaster counties in South Carolina. During the American Revolutionary War, many of the Catawba joined the revolutionaries. Resettlement and disease extinguished their numbers to only about 110 people and by 1826, about all of the Catawba reservation was leased to white settlers.
The Catawba people did not go extinct, though, and the tribe has fought for decades to regain its designation from the federal government as a recognized nation. The tribe regained ownership of a reservation located in York County, with its headquarters at Rock Hill, South Carolina.
Today, the Catawba Nation has 3,000 enrolled tribal citizens and continues to grow.
The Tuscarora are a Native American people of the Iroquoian language. Before the arrival of Europeans in North America, the Tuscarora migrated south and settled in the region now known as Eastern North Carolina.
The tribe’s name, “hemp gatherers,” comes from the tribespeople’s use of the wild (hemp) plant to insulate their houses. The tribe ate a variety of foods, including fish, large game (such as deer and bear) and fruits and vegetables from their plantation crops. The tribe lived in towns to support its plantation-style agriculture in the warmer months and moved to campsites along rivers during the winter months.
Tensions between European settlers and the Tuscarora increased as settlements in the Coastal Plain grew. European settlers would not let the Tuscarora hunt near their farms, which reduced the Tuscarora’s hunting lands. Some white traders cheated the Tuscarora in their attempts to conduct fur trade outposts. Settlers even captured and sold Tuscarora people into slavery.
Ultimately, the Tuscarora were defeated after their clash with colonists, and the tribe moved to New York and joined the League of the Iroquois or Six Nations. By 1831, the Tuscarora had relinquished their land and titles to the state of North Carolina, and the state does not officially recognize any of the present Tuscarora communities.
However, nearly 650 Tuscarora families continued to live in North Carolina and parts of Virginia and South Carolina. Presently, some Tuscarora descendants live in Robeson County, North Carolina, in the communities such as the Tuscarora Nation East of the Mountain, the Southern Band Tuscarora Indian Tribe and the Tuscarora Nation of North Carolina.
Many present-day Piedmont residents have heard of the Lumbee Tribe. The tribe takes its name from the Lumber River, which snakes beneath bridges and spills into swamps in the sandy eastern corner of North Carolina. The founding families settled along these swamps in the 1700s, fleeing the war and disease that followed the colonization of the coastal Carolinas. Many Lumbees still have founding families’ last names, such as Locklear, Chavis, Brooks, Oxendine and Lowry.
Some people believe the tribespeople are descended from members of Sir Walter Raleigh’s Roanoke Island colony, and that they intermarried with indigenous people and fled inland. But most historians agree there was a Cheraw settlement on the Lumber River in the mid-18th century, and that several tribes — along with whites and free blacks — migrated to the area around that time.
The tribe’s descendants now speak a unique Lumbee-English dialect. They also cash their checks at the Lumbee Guaranty Bank and enroll their children at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, the country’s first state-funded four-year college that serves Native Americans.
In 1956 Congress passed the Lumbee Act, which acknowledged the indigenous people of Robeson County as Indians and called them by the name they had chosen for themselves. Over the next few decades, the law was interpreted to mean that Lumbees could not qualify for health, housing or educational benefits offered to other Native Americans. In addition, their land was not protected; their children were not protected from being adopted out of the tribe; they couldn’t form their own police force; and they weren’t consulted when private companies wanted to build natural-gas pipelines on their land.
Decolonize. Why is it important?
“Decolonization is about shifting the way Indigenous people view themselves and the way non-Indigenous people view Indigenous people. Reclaiming family culture, language, history and traditions,” according to illumiNatives.org.
When Native Americans are not included in telling their own stories, “[Native] peoples and communities are rendered invisible in contemporary society [and it] negatively impacts Native communities and continues a legacy of colonization. Invisibility leaves Native people vulnerable to further experiences of prejudice and discrimination.” Eason, Fryberg, and Lopez, For Our Future: An Advocate’s Guide To Supporting Indigenous People’s Day (2019)
When native imagery is used incorrectly or misrepresented, “aspects of someone’s heritage [are] used without permission, or in inappropriate or unwelcome ways that cause cultural, spiritual or economic harm.” George Nicholas, Professor of Archaeology at Simon Fraser University
Indigenize. What can you do?
Pause before you purchase something related to native peoples and think about what you are purchasing. Purchase art from authentic native brands. Partner with authentic native designers and give them credit for their art and their cultural context. Here are some ideas:
Brittany Cheyanne Turner
“I started Cheyanne Symone in 2018 when I saw a need for high quality and sustainable indigenous style earrings that can be worn everyday in a professional work environment and yet bold enough to make a statement.”
Native American and veteran owned and operated, it gives a portion of each sale to support native students in Robeson County. Owners Dakota Lowery and Chelsea Locklear are both NC State University alumni. Locklear is a business analyst at HCG Funds, and Lowery is a geospatial production analyst at Geo Owl LLC.
You can also seek out indigenous communities and learn how they approach issues relevant to them. Here are some people to follow:
Native American Student Affairs (@ncsu_nasa)
The organization’s aim is to focus on the cultures of its ancestors and to enrich awareness of others on the NC State campus and in the surrounding community. Native American Student Affairs (NASA) is open to all people of all races who want to learn more about the indigenous people of this land.
Brittany Danielle Hunt
She is current doctoral student in curriculum and instruction at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She uses social media as a platform to express her pride as a member of the Lumbee Tribe and educate others by restructuring the typical narrative associated with indigenous peoples.
To learn more, consider reading this article on the illumiNative website: The Guide for Allies to support Native Peoples.