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John Goodman 02-15-2004 04:47 PM

Occaneechi Tribe Now Has Land Base
Occaneechi buy land

By Brent Lancaster

MEBANE - For the first time in 250 years, the Occaneechi of Pleasant Grove have land they can call their own.

The Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, an Indian tribe based in eastern Alamance and western Orange counties, bought 25 acres in Pleasant Grove on Thursday for a homeland. The group plans to build a tribal headquarters, a replica Indian village, and a Civil War era farm that resembles the Pleasant Grove farms of old.

It will be three or four years before a building that will house a tribal museum, administrative offices and meeting space, will be built. But the tribe can start on a replica village soon and use the land for pow-wows each spring and fall.

Tribal leaders envision a place where they can hold celebrations, conduct official business and teach visitors about Occaneechi culture.

"This is not just about us," Tony Hayes, the tribal chairman, said. "It's about teaching people about themselves and about their neighbors. As a body of people, we're genuinely excited."

The tribe bought 25 acres along Dailey Store Road in northeastern Alamance County for $86,000. The group had been looking at another piece of property nearby but the seller backed out.

The Occaneechi won a more than decade-long battle for state recognition as an Indian tribe in 2002. Recognition means a spot on the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs and the right to compete for grant money.

The Commission turned the tribe down for membership in 1990, 1995, 1997 and 1999 before the Occaneechi took their case to court and argued that commission members were acting out of personal bias instead of looking at the facts.

Forest Hazel, a historian and researcher who has worked with the tribe for years, said that much of the land will be farmed to help cover expenses.

The tribe may grow "Indian corn, gourds, pumpkins, mint and even apples,"Hazel said. The group hopes to hold this year's fall pow-wow on tribal land for the first time in hundreds of years.

"It will mean the tribe doesn't have to borrow someone else's property and be subject to the property owners' whims any longer," Hazel said. "It's a step toward the tribe being self-sufficient economically."

Families descended from the Occaneechi, Saponi and Eno tribes of central North Carolina and Virginia started settling in Pleasant Grove around the time of the Revolutionary War.

The community was known as Little Texas because of its Indian population.

The Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation has about 500 members and tribal leaders say there are several hundred others in the surrounding areas with family ties.

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