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Old 08-29-2004, 05:23 PM   #1
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Village helps fill void in Native American Community in North Carolina

Village helps fill void in Native American community

By PAUL DUNN

GREENVILLE, N.C. From a distance, the opening in the fence is indistinguishable.

An illusion.

Get closer, though, and the cleft reveals itself. The two ends of the fence as if representing two different worlds overlap by four feet, but never touch. The opening leaves a yard-wide path for visitors and a treacherous, zigzag portal for would-be invaders. Only by standing to the side can one see the chasm. Navigate the opening, and you're suddenly in another world.

The red world.

Jim Cooper, a Metis Indian and Grimesland resident, tries to assimilate both worlds, the white and the red.

"You're living in this society and walking two roads, the white road and the red road," says the 60-year-old, who works at Saint Peter's Catholic School in Greenville. "You get curious about how your ancestors lived."

Behind Cooper's property in Grimesland, a four-foot-high fence encircles a replica Indian hunting village, situated in the woods behind the Eastern Bull Native American Center, which Cooper directs. Twenty oak saplings, each about 5 feet long and 2 inches in diameter, sit side by side, one atop the other to comprise the fence's 360-foot circumference. Inside the barrier, a sweat or purification lodge, meeting house and the beginnings of an "ati," or wigwam, wait patiently for their next guests.

On this particular morning, a humid, cleaving fog engulfs Cooper and Joey Crutchfield as they wind through the trees behind the center. After 30 seconds or so, they reach the entrance to the village, stopping for a moment to observe a makeshift memorial erected nearby. After a few more steps, they're in the village itself. Crutchfield, 46, a Greenville resident and member of the Monican Indian Nation, has just re-entered his childhood. The woods call him, he says, as they did when he was a 10-year-old boy growing up in Roanoke, Va.

"We played in the woods literally from sunrise to sunset," Crutchfield recalls. "They shielded and protected us and kept calling me back. Now, in this village I have the same feeling that I had as a child."

The village was started about three years ago to help fill a void Cooper and Crutchfield saw in the Pitt County Native American community. According to figures compiled by the Pitt County Planning Department, 357 American Indians/Alaska natives lived in Pitt County in the year 2000.

"Joey and I had talked about having something in the area for native people," recalls Cooper. "We didn't have any place for native people to meet, and from that conversation it evolved into the notion of a replica native village."

The notion took hold. Cooper owns the land on which the village is built, and Crutchfield had the skill and know-how to construct it. Over the next couple of years, the one-acre parcel of woods behind the Eastern Bull Center was slowly transformed into a retreat and community resource.

"The whole idea behind the village is for people in the community to learn about Indian history and how these villages were constructed," Crutchfield says.

According to Gay Wilentz, East Carolina University director of ethnic studies, the village also helps Native Americans embrace their culture, especially in the South where the focus on the culture is not as strong as it is in states such as Arizona and New Mexico.

"There has been a lot of assimilation imposed on people in the United States, and now there is a movement and not just among African Americans and Native Americans to reconnect to the past," says Wilentz, who's been at ECU for 18 years.

To Bess Hinson, a member of the Tuscarora Nation and an advisor to the East Carolina Native American Organization, a group of Native American students at ECU, the village can be a source of lifeblood for some local Native Americans.

"It's kind of like a fish being able to have some water," Hinson says. "The village can teach students a lot about Native American culture and a little about history."

Each of the structures in the village has historical significance. The 5-foot-high, igloo-shaped sweat lodge, framed with cedar limbs and covered with a tarp, is the most sacred of the village's edifices. Approximately eight people can sweat at one time.

In a typical sweat ceremony, about 30 river rocks, each the approximate size of a human head, are heated by fire to red hot. The glowing rocks are placed in a mound in the middle of the pitch-black lodge; water is periodically splashed on them to make steam. The wet heat rises to about 140 degrees, thus limiting the time people can spend in the lodge to about two hours.

"It's a form of meditation," Crutchfield says. "It's probably the most relaxed you can be without substance-abuse drugs."

The ceremony doubles as a worship service.

"It's a way in which you can be reborn and pray to God," Crutchfield explains. "You become one with the creator, and while you're sitting on the ground you realize that you're no better than the ant, and you understand your scheme in life."

The meeting house was next on Crutchfield's to-do list. The 15-foot-high egg-shaped structure, framed with cedar, oak and pine and covered with tobacco sheets, can accommodate 30 people. Benches made from tree saplings hug the inside of the house and a rock-encircled fire pit anchors the middle of the cedar-chip-laden floor. As the name implies, the aerodynamic hut is used for meetings, musings and as a closet for discarded clothing during sweat ceremonies.

The third piece of the village the dome-shaped wigwam resembles a teepee, but with one important difference. The wigwam is permanent, the teepee, mobile. The wigwam, a traditional Native American dwelling, is being constructed out of cedar.

A brick-and-stone fireplace for cooking will complete the village probably in early 2005, Crutchfield says.

For Cooper, just a trek into the woods behind his house is enough to restore his spirits, whether he's in the Indian village or not, he says.

"The whole world goes away. It's very, very restful, and after a day of hard work, I'm good to take on the world again."

___

Information from: The Daily Reflector, http://www.reflector.com

___

August 28, 2004 - 11:06 a.m. EST
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