“What you have here, Miss Emily, is a community” Greg Jacobs tells me upon my first visit to the Coharie tribal center in Sampson County, NC.
“We’ve been taking care of each other our entire lives. Historically, that’s how we survived.”
And here I found myself feeling more love and in more of a surreal presence than I had in a long time. I felt a connection to family…I felt taken care of…I felt peace. All within minutes of being there.
The Coharie people’s values are clear: they value people, they value the land, and they value God.
The real God. Not the God that makes it ok to spread hatred, not the God that permits permission to pass judgements onto others… rather the God that takes care of people no matter what. The God that fills our hearts with love and peace.
That said, the Coharie are still struggling to survive in a society with historically different values, survival tactics and ways of life.
Because of their natural instinct to take care of one another, the successes of the Coharie are not what my white, main-stream family ever regarded to me as success. Where for me success was defined by grades, jobs, homes, and security… the Coharie simply look into each other’s eyes and ask, not out loud, “are you fed, housed, and happy?”.
If so, that’s a success.
The Coharie see their community as one. In fact, they see all people as one. Therefore when one of their own is struggling, they will stay with them. They will nourish them, pray for them, and love them. When someone hurts, they all hurt. Leaving is not what they do. Not when their parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and/or cousins are ill with circumstances outside of their control.
They are always affected by those around them. Other’s happiness, excitement, love, as well as their sadness, sickness, and anger affects the Coharie’s being, and it affects them deeply.
For one Coharie member, the number of people they may regard this way spans to over 100 relatives. My immediate family doesn’t span past 20.
The Coharie have natural strengths that could be of great benefit to any industry. They create things with their hands from nothing but the land. Crafts, spiritual monuments, buildings, toys, crops, food dishes, etc.
“My graddaddy would plan out how he was going to build his house…He did it with nothing but a stick in the ground.”-Gordie Jacobs
“He’d also take a knife in the woods, cut things up, and bring back toys.”
The tribe currently has 3.5 acres of land donated for their community gardens, of which a portion, thanks to their master gardener, turned 350lbs of potatoes to over 6,000 lbs.
In fact, the office I am writing this post from is the former principles office of the old Eastern Carolina Indian High School (ECI), which was built by Coharie people in the 1940’s as a stand to be in control of their education.
Of course once segregation ended, they lost control of how their youth were taught. That is another story for another day.
These abilities to create things are very valuable to society and could make them very successful (by my historical standards), however the Coharie see it differently: these skills allow them to keep their people alive.
Circumstantially, as opportunities for advancement present themselves, i.e college and jobs far away, they appear as opportunities for individual advancement, not community advancement.
Individual advancement is not something that attracts a member of the Coharie tribe.
Also, consider this. As the majority race and culture, it wasn’t increasingly difficult for me to leave my family and go to college… because really no matter where I go my people will be there. It’s my culture, it’s what I’m used to. The rules I grew up with, the responsibilities I had and expectations placed on me, they stay the same when I go to college. When I’m there, I’m on my own.
In most colleges and jobs, the Coharie people will not be there. Their culture will not be there. In fact, there’s a good chance there wont be education or tolerance of their culture there. They are not going to a new community where love, family, and God will be present. They are going to the hold-your-own culture America adapted to upon European arrival. Coming from my upbringing, America’s culture is not in any means terrible… it works. However, standing in the presence of a community where all is one and you are forever taken care of, going to a big-name university appears like walking on a very small tight rope over failure. It is insecure, and failure is inevitable.
And then they see me, coming to their community from the culture that makes them feel this way, and they welcome me with open arms.
I feel that this doesn’t only apply to the Coharie community, it applies all Native American tribes across the country.
For fun, imagine an America where this difference in culture wasn’t the case. Imagine the land under your feet living through you and upholding the traditions and values native to it. Imagine, no matter where you went, you could always look into someone’s eyes and those eyes would ask “Are you fed, housed, and happy?”.
So the Coharie stay together. Maybe not geographically, but culturally. Some get degrees, some get jobs, and some stay at home. No matter what, they keep fighting. This year was the first year that the high school graduates wore their feathers across the stage for graduation, and the tribe is full of love and pride.
As for me, I’m enjoying discovering why God has lead me down here. I’m receiving direct acknowledgement and love that I’ve never received due to my family culture. By this I mean my father and I particularly are uncomfortable discussing feelings, and this experience has expanded my view of doing so in a positive light. This community is something I have unknowingly been seeking deep inside… being surrounded by God and the people he loves every day. The true community.
So for those of you who are living for the paycheck, who have rolled your eyes due to disagreement with anything I have written, or are resigned that nothing in the world can be changed, this is what I have to say: