The numbers may surprise the average newcomer: Wake County is home to more than 8,000 people who identify as American Indian – from tribes across the country.
Looking further ahead, North Carolina has the largest indigenous population in the country east of the Mississippi River.
Yet for the natives of the Triangle, it is easy to feel invisible.
“You get lost in the reshuffle a bit,” said Dana Chavis, a lawyer who grew up among the Lumbee tribe but attended Triangle high school, college and law school. âWe’re all still here.
Pow-wow at Dix Park
On Saturday, tribes from across North Carolina will come together for a powwow that is expected to draw thousands to Dix Park in Raleigh – the first of its kind to secure city and park conservation sponsorship.
With financial support from the city and the park’s central visibility in Raleigh, the tribes hope to bring a new awareness of the state’s indigenous culture and weight that smaller or rural powwows could not bring.
âI think the powwow gives us that visibility,â said Kerry Bird, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Triangle Native American Society. âWe are often left out of the conversation because they think we are in the past or that there aren’t enough of us. “
Running all day Saturday, the Dix Park intertribal powwow is free and open to the public, with a tribal dance competition. The organizers prefer that the participants RSVP online to estimate the crowd size, but it is not required.
North Carolina has eight recognized tribes across the state: the Coharie, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the Haliwa-Saponi, the North Carolina Lumbee Tribe, the Meherrin, the Sappiness, the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation and the Waccamaw Siouan.
But of these, only the Cherokee have full federal recognition.
The Lumbees have long sought the same status, which seemed imminent in 2020 with the backing of President Joe Biden and then-President Donald Trump, but it ultimately failed to gain congressional approval.
While Triangle Universities have hosted inter-tribal powwows, Raleigh’s offers the possibility of a larger, well-known venue with financial resources generally unavailable.
âAn intertribal powwow is a way to bring everyone together, to be inclusive and to celebrate tribal culture without being tribe specific,â said Christina Strickland Theodorou, Lumbee Tribe organizer. âIt helps us express our heritage. It helps us say, âHey, there are Native Americans living here. “
Despite the number of the indigenous population, Bird said, they can be more difficult to recognize than other minority groups. Often, he said, those who identify as American Indians do so without people knowing their identity as easily as someone who speaks Spanish or has a darker complexion.
âWhen I meet new people,â said Chavis, âsometimes it turns into an educational experience. “
This story was originally published October 29, 2021 11:23 a.m.