Courtney Smith, the exhibits and program coordinator, said the exhibit details the Occaneechi, an Indigenous group of people who lived in the Orange County area, and seven major historical journeys the tribe undertook. The exhibit includes art, tools, pottery and jewelry from thousands of years ago, collected from the Hillsborough area.
“I don’t think there’s been a complete exhibit — starting from what we know from Occaneechi island through Hillsborough to the Catawba Nation in South Carolina — this is probably the most complete exhibit that I’ve ever seen in my lifetime," Payne said. "It just brings the feeling that where I stand is where I belong, we were the first people, (the exhibit) is an affirmation that we’re really here and it cannot be undone."
The word “Yésah” from “Yésah: Journeys of the Occaneechi” means “the people” in the Tutelo-Saponi language. The exhibit is a culmination of numerous bands of Native Americans united by their ancestors and customs.
“As far as I know, every tribe in America has a name that means ‘the people,'" Payne said. "If you’ve ever heard the word ‘dine,’ it means ‘the people’ in the Navajo language.”
Vickie Jeffries, the tribal administrator for the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, provided art used in the exhibit.
“People should know that the tribe that occupied the land is right at your back door. I think that the exhibit will show how long we have been here,” Jeffries said. “It’s telling our story. Thanks to Courtney, different members were able to help out with the exhibit to tell our story correctly. People will get to see our culture and our people firsthand.”
Smith said she conducted interviews with members of the Occaneechi tribe to determine the most important piece of knowledge that museum visitors needed to take with them: that the Occaneechi are still here and a part of the community.
“They never went away," Smith said. "They've always been an integral part of the community, and they planned to be so for many generations to come.”
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