The North Carolina Botanical Garden and the North Carolina Botanical Garden Foundation acknowledge that the story told about the history of the land we steward has been incomplete. This reflects our commitment to creating an environment in our gardens and natural areas where everyone’s voice is heard, and everyone feels safe and welcome.
“Indigenous land acknowledgment is an effort to recognize the Indigenous past, present, and future of a particular location and to understand our own place within that relationship (Native Governance Center1).” Equally important to acknowledgement is taking action to advocate for and support the agendas of Native communities. The Garden and Foundation aspire to understand and share a complete history of the land we steward.
Indigenous Land Acknowledgement
The lands we steward are the ancestral homeland of several Siouan-speaking tribes and a part of the recognized home of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation2. We celebrate the many Native people, who, to this day, meet, gather, walk, hike, and engage with the habitats and gardens on this land, and we honor their Native ancestors and Elders, past, present, and future.
We are grateful for the engagement of Indigenous people with the Garden across its history and strive to be of continued value to all Native communities in North Carolina. We invite you to join us in learning the history about the land we each steward and supporting Native artists and entrepreneurs and organizations advocating for American Indian communities, such as the UNC American Indian Center.
The Garden collaborated with the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indian in the design of our Native American Garden in the mid-1980s. In this garden, we grow plants used for medicine, ceremonies, and everyday living by Native Americans in the southeast. In 2001, the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and the Garden produced a video, Plants and the Cherokee.
The UNC American Indian Center3 (AIC) regularly holds their Healthy Native North Carolinians Network workshops and NC Native Leadership Institute at the Garden. In 2019, the Garden and AIC deepened our relationship by establishing a partnership to create an American Indian Cultural Garden on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus through engagement with campus and North Carolina American Indian people. This garden will feature indigenous, culturally significant plants; create a gathering place to celebrate American Indian culture; assist and affirm American Indian students in adjusting to life on campus; and serve as a botanical and cultural teaching tool for the greater community. AIC and the Garden also offer collaborative programming, uplifting the voices and perspectives of local, statewide, and national Native conservation and climate resilience leaders. Through new relationships built out of this work, mutual peer exchange, network building, and resource sharing are emerging.
We strive to be of continued value to the American Indian people of our state, including the members of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, the Coharie Indian Tribe, the Haliwa-Saponi Indian Tribe, the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, the Meherrin Nation, the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, the Sappony, the Waccamaw-Siouan Tribe, and American Indians from tribal nations outside of and beyond North Carolina.
Deepening the Understanding of History of the Land
The lands we steward are ancestral lands of the Yésah4, Native peoples from multiple tribes who passed through, inhabited, hunted, farmed, fished, engaged in ceremony, and buried their deceased on this land. Much of the land we steward is recognized as the home to the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation2 who are thriving in this region to this day. We are grateful for and acknowledge the origins of the traditional ecological knowledge that informs the management practices we use in our gardens and natural areas to maintain biodiversity and prevent wildfires, including prescribed burns.
We also recognize that at least one of the adjacent lands we steward, Mason Farm Biological Reserve, was first cleared, cultivated, and worked by Native Americans and later by African enslaved people. We denounce the enslavement of African people, who lived on and were forced to labor in the care of lands we now steward, specifically the Mason Farm Biological Reserve.
This is a “living document” and will be updated as more history is uncovered. It is only a brief start to a History of the Land that is currently in the research and development stages. This full document will be available on our website when it is complete. If you have ancestral knowledge about the history of the land we steward and are willing to contribute your knowledge to this effort, please contact Emily Oglesby at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Haliwa-Saponi (HA-lih-WAH suh-PONY
Waccamaw-Siouan (WOK-uh-ma Soo-uhn)
The NC Department of Administration has developed a map of NC Tribal and Urban Communities.
Native Land Digital is a Native-led not-for-profit organization that maintains an app that helps to map Indigenous territories, treaties, and languages.
The UNC American Indian Center has an article About NC Native Communities.
Reports (Catawba Project and Siouan Project) on the history of Native Americans in the American South and the impact of European colonization on native peoples in Virginia and the Carolinas during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries. Website of Dr. Stephen Davis, Associate Director & Adjunct Professor of Anthropology, Research Laboratories of Archaeology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
1 The Native Governance Center, an organization led by and for Native people, offers guidance for indigenous land acknowledgements and going beyond acknowledging land:
2 Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation
3 We are grateful to the UNC American Indian Center for partnering with the Garden and fostering our relationships with American Indian communities on campus and across North Carolina.
4 Orange County Historical Museum, Temporary Exhibit – Yésah: Journeys of the Occaneechi, https://www.orangehistorync.org/temporary-exhibit
- “Yésah is a Tutelo-Saponi word which means “the people.” The Yésah formed numerous bands, yet they were one people, united by common ancestors and customs.”
5 Adams, Nick. Jesse Mason cemetery and the History of the Garden.
The North Carolina Botanical Garden (NCBG), a department of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, understands that a university-wide committee is now in the process of developing a land acknowledgement statement for all the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill land holdings. We will share that acknowledgement here once it is published.