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Session 1: Introduction

How the World Was Made: The earth is a great island floating in a sea of water, and suspended at each of the four cardinal points by a cord hanging down from the sky vault, which is of solid rock. When the world grows old and worn out, the people will die and the cords will break and let the earth sink down into the ocean, and all will be water again. . . . When all was water, the animals were above in Galunlati [the Sky Land], beyond the arch; but it was very much crowded, and they were wanting more room. They wondered what was below the water, and at last . . . the little Water-beetle offered to go and see if it could learn. It darted in every direction over the surface of the water, but could find no firm place to rest. Then it dived to the bottom and came up with some soft mud, which began to grow and spread on every side until it became the island which we call the earth.

—James Mooney, History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee

Ten Thousand Years in Six Weeks?

American Indians, the first people to inhabit North Carolina, arrived more than 10,000 years ago. For the first 9,500 years, they had no written languages, but they left clues about themselves in archaeological records and in the rich oral history and cultural traditions that live on today. Europeans exploring North Carolina in the 1520s came upon these native groups. In the years that followed, known as the Contact period, Indian populations decreased dramatically because of diseases brought by settlers, warfare, and voluntary and forced relocations resulting from colonization. Indian cultures changed rapidly, and some tribes and indigenous languages were all but eradicated. Tribes faced other hardships throughout the centuries. Many groups moved to marginal lands in North Carolina and neighboring states where they faced discrimination as they struggled to preserve their communities and cultural identity. Today, North Carolina’s Indians are recovering their heritage and reviving their languages and traditions.

So how can a four-week workshop cover 10,000 years of the rich history of North Carolina’s Indians? It can’t, of course. But American Indians in North Carolina, Past and Present will present information on past and present Indian tribes in the state and will examine some of these groups within the contexts of education, work, government and politics, language, and the arts. The workshop will pay particular attention to today’s eight state-recognized tribes, their activities and concerns, and their leaders.


American Indian groups in North Carolina, ca. 1600–1700

Data from Tom Ross, American Indians in North Carolina: Geographic Interpretations (Southern Pines, N.C.: Karo Hollow Press, 1999)

American Indian groups in North Carolina, 2008

From The North Carolina Commission on Indian Affairs brochure "North Carolina's First Peoples" 2008.

American Indian in North Carolina Population During the Colonial Period

American Indian population (approximate) in North Carolina during the colonial period 





Cape Fear

 not available

South central N.C., eastern S.C.



 4,600 in 1682

One band in western S.C., another in central S.C.

Reside on reservation in York County, S.C.


1,000 in 1,600;
510 in 1715

Northwest S.C., western N.C., central N.C., central S.C.

Some may have merged with Catawba and Saponi. Descendants among many of the state-recognized tribes, including Haliwa-Saponi, Sappony, Lumbee, and Occaneechi-Saponi.


8,000 in 1600

Western N.C., western S.C.

Reside on Qualla Boundary reservation and in Snowbird and Tomotla communities in western N.C.


700 warriors in 1584–1585; 1,500 in 1600; 240 in 1713;
20 families in 1731; 5 in 1755

Chowan River, north central N.C.

Thought extinct, but members of Meherrin tribe trace ancestry to Chowanoc.


1,000 with the Neusiok in 1600;
75 in 1709

Neuse River in N.C.

Thought extinct. Some may have merged with Tuscarora following the Tuscarora War.


750 in 1600

Tar and Neuse Rivers in N.C., Hillsborough, N.C., S.C. 

May have merged with Catawba and Saponi, with descendants among Haliwa-Saponi, Sappony, and Occaneechi-Saponi.


1,200 with the Machapunga in 1600;
89 in 1709;  3–4 in 1761

Cape Hatteras, N.C.

In 1761 and 1763, nine children were reported living among Machapunga in Hyde County. Hatteras and Machapunga became extinct, moving into the surrounding white and black communities. The surname Mackey, found in Hyde County and surrounding counties, traces back to Hatteras/Machapunga merge.


500 in 1600

High Point, N.C., Albemarle Sound in N.C., Pee Dee River in S.C.

Merged with Catawba and possibly Robeson County Indians.


1,200 in 1600;
260 in 1709;
7–8 warriors in 1761

Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds in N.C. (present-day Hyde County)

Maintained cohesion as tribe until late 1700s, when they blended with surrounding white and black communities. The surname Mackey, found in Hyde County and surrounding counties, traces back to Hatteras/Machapunga merge.


700 in 1600;
180 in 1669;
7–8 warriors in 1755;
20 warriors in 1761

Meherrin River along N.C.–Va. border

Following Tuscarora War, many Meherrin moved to reservation in Bertie County. When reservation closed in 1802, some moved to N.Y. Descendants of those who remained live in Northampton County and surrounding counties.


not available

Roanoke River in N.C.



1,000 with the Coree

Neuse River, Craven and Carteret Counties, N.C.

May have merged with Tuscarora, with descendants among Coharie in Harnett and Sampson Counties.

Nottaway or Notowega

1,500 in 1600;
300 in 1715;
47 in 1825;
300 in Va. in 1827 

Western N.C.

May have merged with Meherrin, Susquehanna, or Cherokee.


750 in 1709

Orange County, N.C.

Some removed to northern U.S. ca. 1740. Descendants in Alamance, Orange, and surrounding counties.


75 in 1709

Pamlico River in coastal N.C.

Enslaved, merged with Tuscarora.


750 in 1709

Yadkin River, Salisbury, N.C.

Some migrated north; others remained in the N.C.–Va. border region. Descendants among Haliwa-Saponi, Sappony, Occaneechi-Saponi, and Lumbee.


not available

S.C., Nottoway River in N.C., Eno River near Durham

Merged with Eno then joined Catawba and Saponi. Descendants among Haliwa-Saponi, Sappony, and Occaneechi-Saponi.


not available

Santee River in S.C., Haw River in N.C.

Merged with Catawba; some may have moved to Lumber River area.


not available

Mecklenburg County, N.C., York County, S.C.

Merged with Catawba.


5,000 in 1600;
1,200 warriors and 15 towns in 1709;
300 in 1752–1761;
220 to 230 in 1766;
105 in 1767

Roanoke, Neuse, Tar and Pamlico Rivers in N.C.

Migrated steadily to N.Y. and other northern states from 1713 (end of Tuscarora War) to 1802 (closing of Bertie County reservation). Descendants of those who remained merged with various eastern N.C. tribes.


610 in 1715

Waccamaw River in N.C., Lower Pee Dee River in S.C.

Merged with Catawba; some may have moved to Lumber River and Green Swamp areas of N.C., with descendants among Lumbee and Waccamaw-Siouan.


not available

Western S.C. (North Augusta), Lancaster, S.C., Mecklenburg and Union Counties, N.C. 

Merged with Cheraw and later Catawba; some may have moved to Lumber River area.


800 in 1600;
40 in 1701

Northeast N.C.

Extinct. May have merged with Algonquian tribes such as Chowanoac.


600 in 1600


Some merged with Tuscarora, others with Catawba. After a war with South Carolina, many moved to the Green Swamp of Bladen and Columbus Counties. Descendants among Waccamaw-Siouan.


2010 Population Figures

American Indian and Alaska Native population in North Carolina: All ages: 123,961 total, 1.3% of total North Carolina population

American Indian and Alaska Native population in the United States: All ages: 2,932,248 total, 0.9% of total U.S. population

Tribal Information


Counties: Sampson, Harnett  
Population: 2,500  
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  
Population: 13,400  
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  
Population: 3,800  
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 
Population: 56,000  
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  
Population: 800  
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  
Population: 800  
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.


County: Person  
Population: 850  
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  
Population: 2,000  
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.

American Indians in North Carolina—Resources for Students

Check out our On-Demand Distance Learning Programs American Indians in North Carolina, avaialble to use anytime with your class! Download all the materials you need OR reserve hands-on artifacts to be sent to you to use with your class. No special software needed for these programs. And look for LIVE! Streaming Events on this topic, too. And don’t forget our Videos on Demand, ready when you are.

General Links

North Carolina Department of Instruction, Culturally Responsive Instructional Resources,
Check out the links on the left for additional resources for your classroom.

Bureau of Indian Affairs
This division of the U.S. Department of the Interior offers information about its services and reports, topics of interest, and links to related agencies.

Index of Native American Teaching Resources on the Internet
The American Indian section of the WWW Virtual Library includes this extensive list of teacher resources and online course materials.

Intrigue of the Past: North Carolina's First Peoples: A Teacher's Activity Guide for Fourth through Eighth Grades
This comprehensive site offers educators background material, lesson plans, printed and online resources, and graphics.

North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs
An overview of the commission’s programs and services, annual report, fact sheets, and other information.

Prehistory of North Carolina: A Basic Cultural Sequence
This time line presents North Carolina’s prehistory.

Storytelling of the North Carolina Native Americans
This site explores the storytelling traditions of the Cherokee, Lumbee, and Occaneechi tribes and includes interviews with and video clips of current storytellers.

Cherokee Museum Information Packet
The Cherokee Museum offers background information for Educators.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, American Indian Center
Check out this resource for information about North Carolina American Indians.

Teaching Young Children about Native Americans
Debbie Reese, a Pueblo Indian working in the field of early childhood education, provides positive strategies for teaching about American Indians.


A Critical Bibliography on North American Indians, for K–12: Southeast
The Smithsonian Institution’s Anthropology Outreach Office offers this comprehensive, critically annotated bibliography designed for educators and parents.

An Introduction to Resources on the History of Native Americans in North Carolina
This annotated bibliography from UNC-Chapel Hill's libraries is divided into two sections -- an introduction to general works on American Indians in North Carolina, and an extensive listing of resources available on the 8 state-recognized tribes. While the resources' locations are referenced in UNC's libraries, most can be found fairly easily in other libraries as well.

Assignment 1

Complete one of the following options:

Option 1 (Choose this option if you are seeking technology credits.)*

Visit two websites listed in this session and submit an evaluation based on the following:

  • What did you learn from visiting these websites? What questions did your visits provoke?
  • How applicable is the information to what you teach in the classroom? How might it better suit your needs? 
  • What three ways could you use these websites in your classroom?

Next, find two relevant websites not included in this session. Briefly explain why you would or would not recommend them to other educators.

Option 2 (Choose this option if you are seeking technology credits.)*
Test your online investigative skills by researching the following four items using only the Internet. After each answer, list the steps you took to find your response.

  • What are the mission statement and goals of the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs?
  • Translate “Hello. How are you?” into Cherokee. (Did you hear it pronounced?) 
  • Find a website with a lesson plan, story, or book advertisement about American Indians appropriate for your curriculum this year. What is its address? 
  • Who is Theda Perdue?

Option 3 (Choose this option if you are seeking reading credits.)*
Helping improve reading skills can go hand in hand with teaching about American Indians. Create a reading list about American Indians appropriate for the grade level you teach and your curriculum and briefly discuss how you could use them to improve reading skills and boost students' interest in reading. Resources can include essays, fiction, interviews, legends or stories, websites, government documents, diaries, letters, music lyrics, etc. You must include at least ten resources. (The resources do not need to be North Carolina related.)

Submit your completed assignment via e-mail to:

*We suggest that you contact your principal or local education agency if you are interested in technology or reading credits to ensure that you will be allowed to earn them for this workshop."

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