Meherrin Indian Tribe

Published on February 17, 2012 by Amy

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Meherrin Indian Tribe
Meherrin Indian Tribe

The Meherrin Indian Tribe is of the same linguistic stock as the Cherokee, Tuscarora, and other tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy of New York and Canada. The Meherrin Indians spoke a language that was very similar to the Tuscarora dialect in their dialect; the tribal name “Meherrin” means “People of the Muddy Water” or the “Muddy Water People.” The Europeans used various spellings of the Meherrin Tribal name in documents and historical writings. These spellings include: Maherineck, Maherrins, Menheyricks, Maherine, Meherin, Meahearin, Meheren, Macherine, Maherring, Meherron, Maherin and Meharins.

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Written history of the Meherrin Indians began on August 29th, 1650, when an English merchant named Edward Bland, along with five other Englishmen, one Nottoway Indian and one Appomattox Indian arrived in the Meherrin village of Cowonchahawkon on the north bank of the Meherrin River, two miles west of the present day city of Emporia, Virginia. There were two other Meherrin villages in the same vicinity; Taurura, near present day Boykins, Virginia and the village of Unote, which was on the Meherrin River between Emporia and Boykins.

The land, river, streams and creeks of the Emporia area provided basically all the materials that the Meherrin needed. Wild game and natural resources met and exceeded the needs of the Tribe. The total population of the Meherrin Tribe never exceeded 600 members at any given time.

Although our written history began in Virginia, it did not take long before the pressures of the colonists and traditional Indian enemies forced the Meherrin Indians further down the Meherrin River into Hertford County, North Carolina. They then settled at the mouth of the Meherrin River around 1706, on a reservation site that had been abandoned by the Chowanoke Indian Tribe.

Because of the steady encroachment of colonists onto the reservation and European introduced diseases, the Meherrin Indians left the reservation and migrated into the surrounding swamps and less desirable areas of Hertford County. After becoming individual land owners, the Meherrin Indians had to conceal their identity in order to survive in the racial climate of the era. Racial prejudice prevented the Meherrin Indians from reorganizing in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, however; the events of the time (prejudices, fictions in the community, governmental interference, etc.) prevented the Tribe from openly acknowledging its continued existence and Indian heritage.

In 1977, the Meherrin Indian Tribe charted itself as a nonprofit organization under the leadership of the late Chief Rueben R. Lewis. Since that time, the Meherrin Indians have and directed most of their energies toward cultural awareness, state recognition and eventual Federal Recognition as a Tribe.

The North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs granted state recognition to the Meherrin Indian Tribe in 1986. After satisfactory compliance with state criteria for such action, the Meherrin Indians joined the Lumbee, Coharie, Waccamaw-Siouan, Cherokee and Haliwa-Saponi, all of whom are state recognized tribes. With this recognition behind us, we are now tackling the future, which will include economic development, social and cultural retention and Federal Recognition.

As part of our effort to move forward with Federal Recognition the tribe has done extensive research on our tribal citizens and the native people of this area. This research has taken many years and was necessary to meet the strict documentation required by the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. While doing the research the tribe discovered that many of our tribal citizens, in addition to being Meherrin, also descend from the Chowanoke Indians that once lived at Bennett’s Creek in Gates County. With this revelation the tribe felt that it was important that we recognize who we are by changing our name to the Meherrin-Chowanoke Tribe. In 2006 the tribe petitioned the state of North Carolina to move forward with the name change. As of this date the tribe is waiting for the state to take action our petition.

The present day Meherrin Indians reside in rural northeastern North Carolina with a majority of our Tribal Citizens living in Hertford County, in and around the county seat of Winton, North Carolina. There is a very low unemployment rate within the tribe. Many Tribal Citizens travel to the neighboring state of Virginia to work in the shipyards. Others are employed in the area, in various careers such as teachers, administrator, physicians, building contractors and agricultural workers. A number of Tribal Citizens are self employed, owning their businesses.

Very little of the Meherrin’s traditional arts and crafts have survived to the present. The present day Meherrin has no knowledge of their language which has been extinct for years. In certain families, the art of brain tanning of deer hides has survived as well as some knowledge of herbal use for medicinal purposes. The annual Meherrin Pow-wow has been instrumental in creating a resurgence of interest in the traditional arts and crafts, and the native culture of the Meherrin and closely related tribes of Virginia and North Carolina.

The Meherrin Indian Tribe is incorporated as a nonprofit Indian Tribe. It is governed by a seven member Tribal Council and a Tribal Chief, elected by the enrolled membership of the Tribe. The Meherrin Indian Tribe is North Carolina’s smallest state recognized Tribe.

The Meherrin Annual Pow-Wow is held the fourth weekend in October of each year. This event takes place on our Tribal land, a 46.9 acre site on NC Highway 11, between Ahoskie and Murfreesboro. All gifts and donations from this annual celebration of our culture and heritage as Native Americans help the tribe sponsors this event as well as maintain and improve the Tribal Land and Structures.

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