Hawkeye Indian Cultural Center: Education Hub and Resource Connector
by Jesalyn Keziah
Since 1997, Hawkeye Indian Cultural Center (HICC) has provided services vital to preserving, celebrating, and illuminating cultural traditions of the Native Americans of the sandhills in and around Hoke County. Their mission is to strengthen families, unite people through cultural enrichment, and enhance the self-sufficiency of underserved and distressed communities, particularly among Native Americans in Hoke and surrounding counties. Most strikingly, whereas many other communities and agencies see cultural renewal and service provision as separate areas, Hawkeye sees them as intrinsically interrelated. Not only do they provide fundamental services—including a food bank and job services—to American Indian residents (who make up about 10% of the county population), in a holistic way honoring Native values, they also provide cultural programming and services that celebrate and illuminate the unique and time-honored folk traditions of Native American
communities in and around Hoke county. This comprehensive approach lifts up tradition, allowing folkways and foodways to flourish while nurturing and supporting the social, economic, and physical wellbeing of those who carry these traditions forward.
One way that HICC drives this appreciation of folk tradition is through their Traditional Arts Programming for Students (TAPS). Weekly TAPS culture classes, held at the local Boys and Girls club, teach Native American traditions such as beading, pottery, basket weaving, and regalia making. They also hold a weekly class for dancing and drumming. The first half of the class is dedicated to Tribal/Cultural education that covers information on each of the NC state-recognized tribes; the second half of the session covers instruction on traditional art and craft. Moreover, through a grant from Apple, they have obtained equipment to help youth conduct oral histories of local elders.
HICC deepens this programming through their formal partnership within the local school system. For a number of years, they conducted cultural programming within the schools, and still continue a mentoring relationship with the Native American club at the local high school.
Their celebration of folklife continues onsite, where they host cultural events and eco-tourism projects. They offer job skills training infused in traditional activities, including a canoe guide training program for local youth. They hold classes and events onsite, including an annual powwow, and host community discussions that inform the programming and decision making for the center.
HICC’s inclusive approach is essential to the vitality of these cultural celebrations. Through their educational programming as well as their more broad community outreach, HICC connects and draws in community members who previously felt disconnected from their sense of tribal culture. For example, Gwen Locklear describes how many young Lumbee living
outside of Pembroke—including those in Hoke County—feel disconnected from learning cultural traditions since most programming, powwows, Lumbee Homecoming, and other heritage landmarks take place specifically in Pembroke. Once they were able to follow their interest into the adjacent county and become involved in the Robeson County scene, many indicated that they felt behind because they had lacked the long-term cultural exposure of the youth who had grown up in Robeson County. Part of Gwen’s goal was to bring more Lumbee cultural programming to Hoke County, increasing the exposure of Lumbee traditions as well as focusing on making this outreach more inclusive of a wider geographic spread—ultimately strengthening both the traditions and the sense of community.
Their inclusive approach manifests more broadly in the way they conduct outreach, structure programming, and work within the community. For example, they work with entire families and multiple groups within the community and involve local churches and other community institutions in their programs. Following in tradition, they believe that elders need to be heard, respected, and acknowledged as an active part of the community—and they actively practice this intentional inclusion. Their food programming, such as obesity prevention, incorporates a focus on local and indigenous foods; again, this approach addresses the social needs of the community as well as furthers the practice of culturally rooted traditions. They have created a production garden onsite that teaches traditional and natural growing methods, including Three Sisters plantings and a garden filled with herbs planted in traditional sun circles designs—this garden provides a community space for intergenerational sharing of culturally rooted methods, nourishing the community in body and spirit. The food grown is then used in health-focused programming and is also sold onsite as a healthy, fresh, organic option for the local community. These programs are but a few examples of how HICC truly understands how cultural health and vibrancy, physical health and vibrancy, and economic health and vibrancy are entwined and must be addressed as one.
HICC’s unique approach and vision is noteworthy and deserving of recognition for all that the organization has contributed towards furthering appreciation and understanding of Native American folk traditions in the region and across the state. HICC’s work stands out as passion-driven, historically informed, and community-focused.
Jesalyn Keziah is Community Food Coordinator for The Conservation Fund’s Resourceful Communities Program. Her interest in connecting communities with local food sources began when she observed the working system of a beehive in Eastern NC. She has conducted research in New Zealand with a Burch Fellowship, and worked near Glacier National Park, Montana, and with NC’s Food Youth Initiative.
Original publication citation:
Keziah, Jesalyn. “Hawkeye Indian Cultural Center: Education Hub and Resource Connector.” North Carolina Folklore Journal 61.1-2 (2014): 20-23.