The following descriptions contain information on the current eight state-recognized tribes in North Carolina.
Counties: Sampson, Harnett
State Recognition: 1911; rescinded 1913; reinstated 1971
The Coharie people are descendants of the Neusiok Indians. Since the 1730s they have lived continuously as an Indian tribe at their present location along the Little Coharie River. According to legend, when Coharie mothers heard strangers approaching their village, they gathered their children and softly whispered, “Shhh,” to quiet them until the strangers passed. You can hear that same sound today as the wind blows through the whispering pines.
During the 1800s the Coharie developed a strong political base, which allowed them to establish schools with their own teachers and funds. In 1943 the legislature gave the Coharie tribe its own high school, Eastern Carolina Indian School. Today the school building houses tribal offices. The tribe’s center of activity is the church, where families interact, elders are honored, and social customs are reinforced.
Eastern Band of Cherokee
Counties: Swain, Graham, Jackson
State Recognition: 1889
Federal Recognition: 1868
The Eastern Band of Cherokee descended from the Cherokee who in the late 1830s remained in the mountains of North Carolina rather than be forced into Oklahoma along the infamous Trail of Tears. These thousand or so tribal members lived along the Oconaluftee River, some hiding out. The Cherokee eventually gained the Qualla Boundary reservation, the 56,572-acre site where the tribe resides today. The Cherokee are the only indigenous people in America to have their own written language, developed by Sequoyah.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee is the only federally recognized tribe in North Carolina and the only tribe living on land held in trust. The tribe actively promotes tourism on the boundary, with cultural activities, events, and an outdoor drama. In addition, the Cherokee sell traditional arts and crafts such as baskets, pottery, beadwork, stone carvings, and wood carvings. The tribe’s involvement in many business ventures helps ensure its livelihood.
Counties: Halifax, Warren
State Recognition: 1965
The Haliwa-Saponi people are descendants of the Saponi, Tuscarora, Occaneechee, Tutelo, and Nansemond Indians. In the 1700s these five tribes merged, gradually settling in an area known as the meadows, where the Haliwa-Saponi tribe lives today. During the 1800s the Jeremiah Church (Methodist) became the focal point for the tribe, serving as an educational and social center.
In the 1950s the tribe adopted the name Haliwa, combining the names of its two home counties. It added Saponi to its name on the state charter in 1979. In 1957 the Haliwa-Saponi established a school for children in grades 1–12, the only tribally controlled school recognized by North Carolina at the time. In 1969 the state’s desegregation plan forced the school to close. Since that time the building has served as a community center. Today it also houses the Haliwa-Saponi Tribal Charter School.
Counties: Robeson, Hoke, Scotland, Cumberland
State Recognition: 1885
The Lumbee tribe is the largest tribe east of the Mississippi River and the ninth-largest tribe in the United States. The Cheraw people and related Siouan-speaking groups are the main ancestors of the Lumbee. Europeans first observed the Cheraw community in 1724. The name Lumbee, which was adopted by the tribe in 1952, comes from the Lumber River that winds its way through Robeson County.
The Lumbee tribe thrives in Robeson County and adjoining counties. It has a strong presence in local government and the community. The superintendent of schools, the sheriff, and many business leaders are members of the Lumbee tribe. The first American Indian–owned bank in the United States, Lumbee Bank, opened in Pembroke in 1971. It was also in Pembroke that the state established Croatan Normal School, the first institution of higher education for Indians. Today the remaining building of that school is on the campus of UNC-Pembroke.
Counties: Hertford, Bertie, Gates, and Northampton
State Recognition: 1986
N.C. General Statue § 71A-7.1. Meherrin Tribe of North Carolina; rights, privileges, immunities, obligations and duties.
"The Indians now residing in small communities in Hertford, Bertie, Gates, and Northampton Counties, who in 1726 were granted reservational lands at the mouth of the Meherrin River in the vicinity of present-day Parker's Ferry near Winton in Hertford County, and who are of the same linguistic stock as the Cherokee, Tuscarora, and other tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy of New York and Canada, shall, from and after July 20, 1971, be designated and officially recognized as the Meherrin Tribe of North Carolina, and shall continue to enjoy all their rights, privileges, and immunities as citizens of the State as now or hereafter provided by law, and shall continue to be subject to all the obligations and duties of citizens under the law. (2003-54, s. 2.)."
Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation
Counties: Alamance, Orange
State Recognition: 2002
Tradition holds that the ancestors of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation (OBSN), who called themselves Yésah (the people), came originally from the area known today as the Ohio River valley. Tribal accounts relate that nearly one thousand years ago, a powerful enemy attacked the Yésah, forcing them to migrate east and settle in what is now the Piedmont of Virginia and North Carolina.
The Occaneechi began settling in Orange County just before the Revolutionary War and formed the community of Little Texas (in present-day Alamance County). By 1830 the population of Little Texas had grown to almost 300. Today tribal members reside primarily in this community.
The tribe formally reorganized as the Eno-Occaneechi Indian Association in 1984 with the goal of researching and preserving its heritage. Its people also initiated the tribe’s annual August, June, and October powwows. In 1995 the tribe amended its name to Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, and worked toward its goal of state and federal recognition. In February 2002, the tribe realized one goal when it became the newest tribe legally recognized by North Carolina.
State Recognition: 1911
For more than two centuries, the Sappony have made their home in the High Plains, an area of the central Piedmont straddling the North Carolina–Virginia border. They represent a band of Sappony who remained in this area between Mayo and Blewing Creeks and the Hyco River when a large band of the tribe moved north and joined the Iroquois in 1753.
The Sappony, until just recently known as the Indians of Person County, established a church in the 1830s and a school in 1888, which became important centers of the community. Today, tribal members place emphasis on documenting their unique past and revitalizing their community.
Counties: Columbus, Bladen
State Recognition: 1971
The first recorded mention of the Waccamaw-Siouan people appeared in 1712. The tribe, then known as the Woccon, lived northeast of Charleston, South Carolina, but after fighting a war with the state, it sought refuge in the swampland of North Carolina. Many legends have arisen concerning the origin of Lake Waccamaw. Most center around a flaming meteor that fell and burned itself deep into the swamp. This is why the Waccamaw-Siouan are known as “People of the Fallen Star.”
The Waccamaw-Siouan tribe lives on the edge of Green Swamp, seven miles from Lake Waccamaw. Council headquarters, located on tribal land in Buckhead, serves as the site of the tribe’s community outreach and recreation center, as well as the annual powwow, which has been celebrated since 1970.