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'A way to remind people that we are still here': N.C. celebrates Native American Heritage Month

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AJ Briggs Hunt is a former UNC student and a member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. Briggs Hunt works as the Administrative Support Associate at the UNC American Indian Center.

November is Native American Heritage Month — a time to honor the traditions and stories of Native American, Native Hawaiian, Alaska Native and associated Island communities. North Carolina is home to the largest Native population east of the Mississippi River.

In October 2021, the Biden Administration officially declared November as National Native American Heritage Month because it concludes the traditional harvest season. There are currently 574 federally recognized tribes in the United States and numerous tribes still seeking federal recognition.

There are eight state-recognized tribes in North Carolina — the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the Lumbee, the Coharie, the Meherrin, the Sappony, the Waccamaw Siouan, the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation and the Haliwa-Saponi.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is the only federally recognized tribe in the state. 

Greg Richardson, the executive director of the N.C. Department of Administration's Commission of Indian Affairs, said it is important for every population to know about their heritage, culture and where they come from.

“We know our history, we know our legends, we know the various historic things that have happened to our population throughout the history of the United States,” he said.

He also said it is important to continue to educate the public about Native Americans to know that they are still here.

“It's just a way of keeping our legacy alive in terms of who we are as a people,” he said.

Wanda Burns-Ramsey, the president of the Triangle Native American Society and member of the Lumbee Tribe, said her family has historically struggled with maintaining their identity.

“It would have been a lot easier years ago for my grandparents and their parents to deny that they were Native Americans — but that was never what they wanted to do or would have done,” she said.

In collaboration with the N.C. Museum of History, the N.C. American Indian Heritage Commission, tribal organizations and urban Native American organizations, the N.C. Commission of Indian Affairs is organizing a weekend of special events in honor of Native American Heritage Month.

The 28th Annual American Indian Heritage Celebration starts on Nov. 17 at 9 a.m. with a virtual education day featuring pottery activities and storytelling.

A celebration will also be held at the N.C. Museum of History on Nov. 18 and will include several performances highlighting the culture of the tribes in the state.

Locally, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools is celebrating all state-recognized tribes on Nov. 3 at the Carrboro Town Commons with dancing, storytelling and more.

AJ Hunt, administrative support associate at UNC's American Indian Center, said attending events in the community and following Native content creators on social media are ways that citizens can learn more about Native American history and celebrate the month.

The American Indian Center aims to make UNC a place for Native American research and scholarship, and make Native issues a permanent part of the University.

“It’s a good way to let people know that we're still here, and that our culture and communities are thriving and putting on events and being in community with each other,” Hunt said.

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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