Published on October 26, 2010 by John
The Haliwa-Saponi are located in eastern North Carolina, United States, one of eight Native American tribes recognized by the state. The Haliwa-Saponi hold membership on the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs. The name Haliwa is derived from the two counties: Halifax and Warren, which are the ancestral homelands of the Haliwa-Saponi. They were recognized by North Carolina in 1965. In 1979 the tribe added Saponi to their name to reflect their descent from the Saponi, Tuscarora, and Nansemond peoples of present-day Virginia and the Carolinas.
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The Haliwa-Saponi comprise slightly more than 3,800 enrolled members. About 70% of tribal members reside within a 6-mile radius of the town of Hollister, in Halifax and Warren counties. Some tribal members are also located in Nash and Franklin Counties. The Haliwa-Saponi host one of the largest Pow-Wows in the state of North Carolina, held annually the third weekend in April to celebrate the anniversary of the tribe’s state recognition. The Pow-Wow is held at the Haliwa-Saponi Tribal School, located on ancestral tribal grounds.
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, approximately 2,737 Native Americans reside in Halifax and Warren counties, representing 3.5% of the total combined population. Between 1980 and 2000, the Native American population of the two counties increased by 48%, according to census self-identification. During that time, the Black population increased by 15%, the Hispanic population increased by 50%, and the White population decreased by 5%.
While the Haliwa-Saponi have been recognized by North Carolina as a Native American tribe, they have yet to gain federal recognition.
The tribe is governed by an eleven-member Council, including a Chief and Vice-Chief.
Members founded the Haliwa-Saponi Tribal School in 1957. Due to federal desegregation laws, the school was closed in the late 1960s, when the public school was integrated. In 1999, with funds from the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI), the tribe established a charter school in the same building as the earlier tribal school. This new school expanded in space and enrollment over time, and by 2007 served grades K-12.
The Haliwa-Saponi Day Care Center was established in 1977, serving 22 children aged two to five. While the center was originally operated by the North Carolina Commission on Indian Affairs, the tribe assumed management of the center in 1990. Three years later they expanded it to serve up to 35 children, from newborn to five years of age. The day care center is funded through fees, a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and appropriations from the tribal budget.
Using state-appropriated funds, the tribe manages two substance-abuse-prevention programs. The after-school program is part of a state initiative to eliminate drugs and violence from North Carolina schools and communities. The Family and Schools Together (FAST) program helps families to develop effective methods of communication.
The tribe’s annual pow-wow was instituted in 1965 to celebrate state recognition of the tribal nation. The Haliwa-Saponi pow-wow is held the third weekend of April and is funded in part by ad sales, donations, corporate funding and gate receipts, in addition to grants from the North Carolina Arts Council. More than 100 volunteers and staff make the pow-wow happen. Attendance for the three-day event ranges from 9,000 to 10,000. Net profits for over the last three years have ranged from $18,000 to $35,000.
Since 1972, the tribe has also operated a cultural retention program funded by the North Carolina Arts Council and private contributions. Classes for tribal members of all ages are held twice weekly at the tribe’s multi-purpose building. The program includes instruction in pottery, beadwork/regalia design and construction, dance/drum classes, and Haliwa-Saponi history, as well as day trips to culturally relevant locations.
The Haliwa-Saponi claim descent from the Saponi, a Siouan-speaking Native American tribe of North America’s Southeastern Piedmont. In 1670, John Lederer, a German surveyor, visited a Saponi settlement along the Staunton (now the Roanoke River) River in southern Virginia. Thirty years later, John Lawson, commissioned by the Lords Proprietor to survey the Carolina colony’s interior, encountered groups of Saponi as they conducted trade.
Throughout the post-contact period of increasing English colonial settlement and expansion, southeastern Siouan Piedmont peoples such as the Saponi maintained autonomous villages in what is now northeastern North Carolina and southern Virginia. During the late 17th century, the Saponi undertook a political alliance with the culturally related Tottero, or Tutelo, and together comprised the Nassaw Nation. Another related people, the Occaneechi, who were expert traders, also lived in the region. Due to frequent incursions into Saponi territory by the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Five Nations), situated in present-day New York and Canada, the Saponi and their allies temporarily relocated. They migrated through the regions of present-day Virginia and North Carolina, while continuing to seek economically and militarily advantageous alliances.
By the beginning of the century, continuous warfare with the Haudenosaunee and repeated outbreaks of infectious disease reduced the once populous Saponi. Joining with the Tottero and the Occaneechi, the Saponi migrated to northeastern North Carolina to be closer to the center of Virginia’s colonial trade. In 1711, the Carolina colony went to war with the powerful Tuscarora Confederacy. With the defeat of the Tuscarora two years later, the colony and its allied Saponi met in Williamsburg with the Tuscarora and Nottoway to discuss the terms of peace. They entered into a new treaty of trade with Virginia’s governor, Alexander Spotswood.
On February 27, 1714, the Virginia colony reached an agreement. Moreover, the Saponi, Tottero, Occaneechi, Keyauwee, Enoke (or Eno), and Shakori formally coalesced, becoming “The Saponi Nation.” Another refugee band, known as the Stuckanox, shortly thereafter joined the Saponi Nation. Despite the success in treaty-making and tribal coalescence, the years between 1709 and 1714 were extremely difficult. Disease caused continuing population decline. Travelers enumerated the Saponi Nation at a little more than 300 people. That same year, the Virginia Council asked the Nansemond tribe to merge with the Saponi to strengthen their settlements. They hoped these people could create a buffer between Virginia’s plantation settlements, other Southeastern Siouan Piedmont Native Americans, and the Haudenosaunee.
To strengthen Virginia’s borders, Alexander Spotswood convinced the colonial Board of Trade to approve the establishment of Fort Christanna between the Roanoke and Meherrin rivers, about thirty-two miles north of the present-day Haliwa-Saponi Powwow grounds. Fort Christanna was built to protect the Virginia colony in two critical ways: as a bulwark intended to ward off military assault, and as a center for the Christianization and education of the Saponi and other Southeastern groups. Fort Christanna also served as a major trading post for the corporate Virginia Indian Company.
Christianization and education
Roughly seventy Saponi children were educated and Christianized by missionary teacher Charles Griffin of North Carolina. By 1717, under charges of monopoly, the Colonial Board of Trade lost interest in the Fort and ordered the Virginia Indian Company to disband and dissolve. The Saponi Nation continued to maintain peaceful trade relations with the colony. A portion of the Saponi Nation continued living in the Fort Christanna area from 1717 to 1729. Another group of Saponi migrated into northern Virginia, near Fredericksburg.
At least one band of Saponi and Tottero made peace with their former enemies, the Haudenosaunee, at Albany in 1722. The Haudenosaunee adopted these bands into their nations. They formally confirmed adoption in 1753.
Another group of Saponi migrated south to the militarily and linguistically-related Catawba, in what is now northeastern South Carolina. They occupied a village there from 1729 to 1732. In 1733, they returned to the Fort Christianna area with some Cheraw Indians, only to discover that colonists had taken patents on their traditional lands. Disturbed that their lands had been appropriated illegally, the Saponi made agreements with Virginia for new lands. They also made a separate arrangement with the Tuscarora in April of 1733, to live with them and under their sovereignty.
The Tuscarora Reservation, known as Reskooteh Town and Indian Wood, was located in Bertie County, approximately thirty miles east of the modern Haliwa-Saponi community. The reservation consisted initially of 40,000 acres (160 km²), bordered eastern Halifax County. It included a village known as “Sapona Town”. By 1734, some Nansemond were living with the Nottoway in Virginia. Other Nansemond had resettled near the Tuscarora in North Carolina.
Also migrating with these Indians were Virginia traders who wanted to continue their business relations with the tribes. One of the most noted traders was Colonel William Eaton. He was a resident of “Old Granville” (modern day Franklin, Warren, and Vance) County. He traded with the Saponi, Catawba, and others.
In 1740 most of the Saponi moved north to Pennsylvania and New York, where they merged with the Iroquois for protection. After the American Revolutionary War and victory by the colonists, they moved with the Iroquois to Canada, where the British government provided land and some relocation assistance to their allies. This was the last time in which the Saponi tribe appeared in the historical record
From the 1730s to the 1770s, Haliwa-Saponi ancestors settled in and near the modern Haliwa-Saponi area in North Carolina. The Haliwa-Saponi community began coalescing in “The Meadows” of southwestern Halifax County, North Carolina immediately after the American Revolution.
During the early 19th century, ancestral Haliwa-Saponi remained relatively isolated in the Meadows. They attempted to live peaceably alongside their neighbors. During the 1830s, when the United States enforced policies to remove all Indians living east of the Mississippi River, the federal government basically ignored most of the relatively landless and powerless small tribes settled in the southeastern Coastal Plain. However, Haliwa-Saponi tribal elders tell of several families’ migrating west to Indian Territory on their own, some merging into the general population, while others were adopted by one of the so-called Five Civilized Tribes in Oklahoma. Over the course of the 19th century, the Haliwa-Saponi maintained a close, tight-knit tribal community in modern Halifax, Warren, Nash, and Franklin counties.
While the Reconstruction legislature established public school systems for the first time after the American Civil War, legislators were forced to accept segregated schools to get the bill passed. In the binary system of the South, free people of color, including ethnic Indians, were classified with the freedmen as black. The children of the Meadows, though their ancestors had been free people of color for decades before the Civil War, were expected to go to school with children of freedmen. Like the Lumbee, the Haliwa-Saponi spent the late 19th century fighting for separate Indian schools. They also organized a more formal tribal governance structure. In the 1870s the Haliwa-Saponi began meeting at Silver Hill, a remote location within the Meadows.
These early efforts at formal organization resulted in the Indian schools: Bethlehem School (1882) in Warren County, and the Secret Hill School in Halifax County. Early tribal leaders worked to start the process of reorganizing tribal government. They found great opposition and little support. Many Indians were simply afraid to be public about their affiliation, since it was not popular to be an American Indian. Because of racial oppression, minority activists were subject to retaliation by local whites or Ku Klux Klan (KKK) leaders during that time.
In the mid-20th century, the push for formal organization was finally realized by 1953 through the leadership of John C. Hedgepeth, Lonnie Richardson, B.B. Richardson, Chief Jerry Richardson, James Mills, Theadore Lynch, and others. After living for years in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, W.R. Richardson returned home to the community. He was soon elected the first elected Chief of the modern tribe, with Percy Richardson elected as Vice-Chief.
After the US Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs. The Board of Education (1954) that segregation of schools was unconstitutional, the Haliwa-Saponi built, maintained, and operated the private Haliwa Indian School. It was the only tribally supported Indian school in the state that was not on a reservation. They operated it from 1957-1969. After a few years of its operation, the State Department of Public Instruction (DPI) provided funding for teacher salaries. Tribal members paid for supplies and materials, the building, and maintenance out of their own pockets, much as parents do at parochial schools.
In 1965, North Carolina formally recognized the Haliwa Indian Tribe. The Tribe incorporated in 1974. They added Saponi to its tribal name in 1979 to reflect its historic link to the Saponi Indians.
The Tribe has since built an administrative building, multipurpose building, and instituted various service programs. Programs include tribal housing, daycare, senior citizens program, community services, Workforce Investment Act, cultural retention, after-school and youth programs, energy assistance, and economic development.
Federal recognition through the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Office of Federal Acknowledgement (OFA) remains a top priority for the Haliwa-Saponi. They first submitted a formal petition in 1989. They are seeking and compiling additional information to respond to the OFA’s itemization of issues in its Letter of Obvious Deficiencies (L.O.D.). The Tribe continues to perform research, update files, and monitor the federal acknowledgement process.
The Haliwa-Saponi’s latest accomplishment is the opening of the Haliwa-Saponi Tribal School, 98% of whose students identify as Indian. The school has a curriculum based on standard course of study, small classrooms, technology, and American Indian Studies. The Haliwa-Saponi tribe continues to be culturally active. It is proud of the community’s many dancers, singers, artists, advanced degree students, and young professionals.