On Saturday, the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation celebrated the rededication of the Occaneechi replica village in Hillsborough.
Located along the Riverwalk, the site is a reconstruction of a 17th century Occaneechi village and is near where the tribe had a village 300 years ago, according to the Visit Hillsborough website.
Members of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation began construction of the replica village in the late 1990s, led by John "Blackfeather" Jeffries.
However, it fell into disuse and was eventually taken down due to the difficulty of upkeep at the site.
Tribal members have been working for over five years to complete the reconstruction of the replica village, alongside community volunteers, town and county staff and the Alliance for Historic Hillsborough.
Multiple ati (huts) were built along with a fire pit, cooking table and a work arbor.
Saturday's rededication was sponsored by Orange County, the Alliance for Historic Hillsborough and the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation.
Tribal members spoke about the history and importance of the town during the ceremony.
William “Tony” Hayes, tribal chairperson for the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, said the replica village shows the significance of the partnership between the Occaneechi tribe, Orange County government and the Alliance for Historic Hillsborough.
“We’re really thrilled and really looking forward to what we’re going to be able to accomplish in the future as partner organizations,” Hayes said.
He said that the members of the Occaneechi tribe in attendance were proud and excited about the authenticity and genuine, positive attitude toward the rededication event.
Occaneechi historian and tribe member Lawrence Dunmore said that acknowledging the tribe's history is important for understanding the history of Hillsborough area.
“When you’re walking into that village, and past the palisade, you’re actually getting a picture of what life may have been like if you had been traveling in 1701,” Dunmore said.
During the event, he answered questions about Occaneechi history and gave his perspective on activities taking place at the event.
The site of the replica village was excavated in 1996 by anthropologists and archaeologists from UNC.
Dunmore said the replica village site was a product of decades of archeological work done mainly by the University. However, the Occaneechi Tribe was closely involved throughout the reconstruction process.
“It was a cooperative arrangement, which I think was mutually beneficial to all parties as a way to preserve the rich history and culture which occurred there in that area,” Dunmore said.
Sarah Sandbeck, executive director of the Alliance for Historic Hillsborough, said the replica village provides an opportunity to tell the true story of the Occaneechi Tribe and the Indigenous people that have resided and do reside in Hillsborough.
“I feel so honored to be able to be a part this project, to be a part of something as significant as this is," she said.
Dunmore said the rededication was a great educational opportunity for Hillsborough community members.
He said that not many residents are aware of Native people in the North Carolina area.
Beverly Payne, a member of the Tribal Council of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, said she’s hoping the village replica will help show the true history of Indigenous people.
“It’s just about claiming our spot in Hillsborough, that is, you know, our spot,” Payne said.
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