When John Blackfeather Jeffries, a member of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, demonstrates how to make traditional American Indian weapons or discusses his displays of early hunting and fishing tools, he feels a special bond with his ancestors.
“To hold something like an arrowhead in my hand and know it belonged to my ancestors, it connects me to them,” says the Hillsborough resident and former tribal chairman of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation.
Jeffries will be November’s Artist at Work at the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh. Watch him craft traditional bows, arrows, blowguns and atlatls (devices for throwing a spear or dart) during the 14th Annual American Indian Heritage Celebration on Saturday, Nov. 21, from 11 a.m. to. 4 p.m. He will also demonstrate his craft on Sunday, Nov. 22, from 1 to 3 p.m. Jeffries follows the same techniques that his ancestors used to make weapons. Admission is free.
Jeffries’ remarkable collection of early hunting and fishing tools will be on display both days. Through the display and his weapon-making demonstration, Jeffries honors the civilizations that flourished in North Carolina thousands of years before Europeans arrived. At the same time, his presentations serve as a reminder that American Indians still live here.
Jeffries’ visit is a perfect fit for the American Indian Heritage Celebration, the year’s largest event at the N.C. Museum of History, on Nov. 21. The annual festival will feature musicians, dancers, artists and storytellers from North Carolina’s eight state-recognized tribes.* Admission and parking are free, so all you need to spend is your time.
And what a time it will be! The celebration has plenty of activities for all ages. In fact, it is so large that it flows outside to Bicentennial Plaza and the State Capitol grounds. The celebration is a firsthand opportunity to learn about the state’s Indian culture, past and present.
During the Call of Nations at noon, see dancers in colorful regalia move to the rhythm of the drum groups Southern Sun and Red Wolf. Throughout the day, watch a dugout canoe take shape, or talk with artisans at work, such as John Blackfeather Jeffries, a member of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, who crafts traditional weapons. Other artists will carve gourds and stone, make pottery, create ribbon work and feather art, and more. (This is a great opportunity to get an early start on holiday shopping.)
Hands-on crafts, traditional games and workshops provide interactive experiences galore. You can play a game of corncob darts, shoot a blowgun, grind corn or join a beadwork workshop, among other things. Hear storytellers from the Eastern Band of the Cherokee and the Lumbee tribes share tales of long ago, or join a presentation by Dr. Malinda Lowery, a Lumbee tribe member and an assistant professor of history at UNC-Chapel Hill. She has produced several documentary films about American Indians, including “In the Light of Reverence,” which aired on PBS in 2001.
Stay for lunch and make a day of it. Vendors will sell fry bread, sweet potato fries, Sappony salsa, buffalo burgers, fried pies and other tasty treats. Speaking of food, explore the museum’s gardens to see plants that were grown by American Indians in North Carolina before the first European contact, such as a Cherokee flour corn variety, the Seminole pumpkin, and the Hidatsa Shield Figure bean.
This event is the perfect way to spend a fall day and celebrate American Indian Heritage Month. For a complete schedule or more information, go to ncmuseumofhistory.org or call 919-807-7900.
The American Indian Heritage Celebration is supported by the N.C. Commission of Indian Affairs; Museum of History Associates; and United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County, with funds from the United Arts campaign, the N.C. Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes a great nation deserves great art. Additional funding is provided by Food Lion and IBM.
* The eight state-recognized tribes are Coharie, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Haliwa-Saponi, Lumbee, Meherrin, Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, Sappony, and Waccamaw-Siouan. For more information about the tribes, go to http://www.doa.state.nc.us/CIA/.
The N.C. Museum of History’s hours are Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free. The museum is part of the Division of State History Museums, Office of Archives and History, an agency of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources. The department’s Web site is www.ncculture.com.