Campbell hosts N.C. Commission of Indian Affairs, sets foundation for partnership

Representatives of North Carolina’s eight American Indian tribes met at Campbell University June 3-4 for its quarterly meeting to discuss important issues facing Native Americans in the state and set goals and initiatives for the coming year. 

The meeting marked the second visit of the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs to Buies Creek in the past year, laying the groundwork for a partnership that both sides hope will continue to grow in the coming years, according to Dr. Alfred Bryant, dean of the School of Education & Human Sciences and a member of the Lumbee tribe based in Pembroke. 

“When I came to Campbell, I started talking to [Executive Vice President] John Roberson about how the University can get more involved with some of our nearby American Indian tribes — Harnett and Sampson counties are home to the Coharie, so why not try to form a relationship that benefits all involved?” said Bryant, who joined Campbell in 2020. “The group first came here in December and had such a great experience on campus that they asked what I thought about hosting the June meeting as well. We would love for this to become an annual stop for them.”

Campbell is an ideal location for Commission meetings, he added, because of its central location and available facilities. It’s also a short drive for members of the Cohari, Lumbee and Waccamaw Siouan [Bladen and Columbus counties] tribes. Visitors of the June meeting stayed overnight in on-campus residence halls, which were vacated by students in May. 

Pamela Cashwell, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Administration, said June’s meetings covered typical topics discussed in quarterly meetings, but also provided an opportunity to look to the future and consider long-term goals and ways to have a stronger voice in Raleigh. 

“A lot of this week is about strategic planning and visioning sessions — really the first steps of planning for the next free years,” she said. “And honestly, we’re doing a little bit of a reset before we move forward.” 

The Commission of Indian Affairs consists of 21 representatives of the American Indian community, two representatives appointed by the General Assembly and one representative each appointed by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Secretary of Commerce, the Secretary of Administration, the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources and the Commissioner of Labor. The 21 selected from North Carolina’s recognized tribes are selected by tribal or community consent representing the Coharie, the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, the Haliwa Saponi, the Lumbee, the Meherrin, the Waccamaw-Siouan, the Sappony and the Native Americans located in urban areas (Cumberland, Wake, Guilford and Mecklenburg counties). 

The commission was created in 1971 by the General Assembly in response to requests from concerned tribal leaders who felt their voices weren’t being heard at the state level. There are roughly 122,000 American Indians living in North Carolina, giving the state the largest population east of the Mississippi River and eighth largest in the nation. 

N.C. Commission of Indian Affairs Executive Director Greg Richardson, Campbell University School of Education & Human Sciences Dean Alfred Bryant, and NCDIA Chairman Ricky Burnett.

Archaeological evidence indicates that Native Americans were living in what is now North Carolina at least 12,000 years ago. Indians of what is now the Virginia and North Carolina coast were hosts to the first English-speaking explorers and settlers. 

Greg Richardson, the commission’s executive director, said a big part of the June meetings at Campbell University was the subject of leadership — improving leadership capabilities internally and at the state level. 

“We think Campbell University could host future leadership training opportunities in the future,” Richardson said. “It’s a place where we could bring our tribal leaders together — in a more formal setting — and maybe host weekend-long sessions where they could earn certification in a number of areas. We want to enhance our tribal leaders’ ability to run their programs effectively.”

“Campbell has grown so much in recent years,” added Ricky Burnett, commission chairman. “And to have an environment like this — in a University setting — is just such a positive thing for us. I’m truly enjoying being here, and I’m excited about building a relationship with a school like Campbell going forward.”