The new exhibit at the Mebane Historical Museum, “Welcome to Our Land: The Occaneechi Yesterday and Today,” celebrates the history of The Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation.
The Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation is one of eight officially state-recognized tribes of North Carolina with a long and ancient history in North America, said Traci Davenport, director of the Mebane Historical Museum, in her introduction at the opening reception of the exhibit last Thursday evening.
Senior anthropology student at Elon University, Erin Mellett, is the curator of the exhibit and has been part of the Elon College Fellows for four years. Under the direction of her mentors Tom Mould and Ethan Moore, Mellett studied tourism in small business and communities. She sought the approval of the Occaneechi Tribal Council to do her research, interview tribal members and write up her research as well as making possible the exhibit.
“I wanted to do more in the area of applied anthropology,” says Mellett, “and help the tribe with public education.”
Mellett had also interned at the Mebane Historical Museum while a student at Elon.
The tribal members said last Thursday evening that Mellett has spent a lot of time talking with them individually in preparing the exhibit, and they are “proud” of her, said Tony Hayes, chairman of the Tribe, in his opening remarks to the audience at the exhibit.
“We are proud of our past and the community we live in,” says Hayes. “We want to create a community atmosphere around the state.”
Hayes says over 184,000 Native Americans of half blood or more reside in the state of North Carolina. Of full blood heritage is 122,000. “We’re the most populous state of Native Americans east of the Mississippi River.”
The exhibit speaks for itself, says Hayes, to honor the Occaneechi, “our people and our neighbors”. He adds, “We look forward to working together, this our first step in honoring out communities.”
The Occaneechi are “saturated in the community,” says Hayes, and “we thank Erin (Mellett) for bringing this exhibit to our hometown. She has done this exhibit with grace, and we’ve adopted this Massachusetts student.”
“I’m fascinated with this exhibit,” says tribal leader John Blackfeather. “It’s his story, not history; it’s our story. It’s the truth, written by our people. It tells who we are and gives us a signature. The exhibit gives people a sense of our belonging and our giving back to the community.”
This exhibit is made possible through funding from the North Carolina Humanities Council and Elon University.
The Museum is free and open to the public. Hours are Tuesday – Friday, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. and Saturday, 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. The Museum is located at 209 W. Jackson St.