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Indigenous Land Relationships in the Carolinas

An Interactive Audio Tour Created by

Quinn Smith, citizen of the Chickasaw Nation,

through Duke Gardens’ Equity Through Stories Program


We Are Here
Image Credits: N.C. Commission of Indian Affairs (Left), Taylor Ammons with USDA NRCS (Right)


Over the past 500 years, the U.S. and other colonial powers committed genocide in an attempt to steal Indigenous lands and resources. 

However, Indigenous people triumphed over this unimaginable violence. Today, 18 tribes reside in North and South Carolina. North Carolina has the most Indigenous people east of the Mississippi River. We honor and respect the diverse Indigenous peoples who had intimate and respectful relationships with the lands on which we gather.

A Living Land Acknowledgement
Haliwa Saponi at a North Carolina Powwow. Credit: Haliwa Saponi.


This project exists to make a land acknowledgement more than just words. We must listen to Indigenous people to heal our relationships with each other and the land. Indigenous people hold the knowledge that their ancestors have known for millennia. This includes an intimate and respectful understanding of the natural world.

Listen here:


Why is it important to recognize the Indigenous peoples nearest to you?

Common Misconceptions
A diverse and modern portrayal of Cohaire people. Credit: Cohaire Tribe.


Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about Indigenous people due to incomplete schooling and poor media representation. 

Vickie Jeffries (Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation) and Roo (Catawba Nation) dispel misconceptions about Indigenous peoples' relationships with the land. Vickie and Roo paint a beautiful, correct, and modern picture of tribal nations which surround Duke Gardens. 

Listen here:


Think about stories that have you heard about Indigenous people. Based on the source, how accurate do you think these stories are?

What is Nature?
The Blomquist Garden's Piedmont Prairie. Credit: Lori Sullivan.


In the English language, we separate "plants" and "animals" from "humans." We also separate “nature” from "everything else." However, this distinction is not the same in every language. For example, it does not exist within many Indigenous languages. 

Roo (Catawba Nation) explains how the Catawba  do not have a word for differentiating plants, animals, or nature from humans. This leads to a more respectful understanding of the world. 

Listen here:


How could thinking of humans as part of nature help us to treat the environment better?

The Meherrin's Medicines
One of Meherrin Nation's powwows. Credit: Ivan Richardson.


There are many important medicines to Indigenous people around the world. Here, the term “medicine” describes plants with both ceremonial and medicinal uses. This stems from the belief that one's spiritual and physical well-being are the same. 

Stands Among Elk (Meherrin Nation) will tell us the magical story of how his people learned all their medicines. 

Listen here:


How does hearing about these plants make you think about the environment?

The Four Sacred Herbs
Artemisia ludoviciana, Sage, is found in 45 states and is sacred to tribes across North America. Credit: Matt Levin.


Cedar, sage, sweetgrass, and tobacco are sacred to Indigenous people across North America. These herbs are used to treat many illnesses and are crucial in many ceremonies.

Listen to Vickie Jeffries (Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation) tell us more about the four sacred herbs. Vickie describes cedar as "the grandfather medicine" and sweetgrass as "the hair of Mother Earth."

Listen here:


How can you show more respect to the plants that are around you?

Indigenous Medicinal Plants
Acorns of many species of oak trees. Credit: David Hill.


Indigenous people learned how to use plants to heal many physical and spiritual ailments.

Listen to Stands Among Elk (Meherrin Nation) and Vickie Jeffries (Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation) tell us about how their peoples use plants and fruits like acorns, sumac, cedar, and strawberries to cure everything from dandruff to cholera. 

Listen here:


What plants are you most familiar with? Are there any medicinal uses for this plant that you know of?

Pine Needle Art: Vickie's Story
One of Vickie Jeffries' pine needle baskets. Credit: Vickie Jeffries.


Because they don't have any apparent use, it might be easy overlook pine needles. However, to Vickie Jeffries and her ancestors (Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation), pine needles were a sacred and useful resource.

Today, Vickie creates beautiful baskets from pine needles. Vickie leaves a tobacco offering each time she harvests pine needles: the same thing she does for every plant.

Listen here:


Can you think of any uses for things you might consider "waste" in nature?

Who Owns Seeds?
A variety of seeds. Large-scale farmers grow just a few species. Credit: Dmitry Makeev.


While it might not seem significant, the availability of seeds is one of the world's most important economic questions. 

Roo (Catawba Nation) reveals how industrialized agriculture harms the environment and threatens Indigenous and small-scale farmers globally. 

Listen here:


How is it be helpful to think about how your food is grown?

An American robin feasts on native holly berries in the Blomquist Garden. Credit: Cathi Bodine.


Ever wondered how birds got their songs? Stands Among Elk (Meherrin Nation) tells us how the Creator awarded birds their songs after a fierce competition. 

Then, Roo (Catawba Nation) will explain how the Catawba people let the birds name themselves. Roo has also created children’s songs featuring the bird names in the Catawba language.

Listen here:


How is Roo's story about "letting the birds name themselves" different from bird names in English?

Listen to the World Speak
Pine trees during winter at the Blomquist Gardens' Piedmont Prairie. Credit: Brian Wells. 


Nature can tell us many things. For example, it might remind us to slow down and reflect upon the life's beauty. It might also remind us to take better care of the environment and preserve the beauty that we see. 

John Blackfeather (Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation) reminds us that the pine trees, water, and wind each have something to tell us. 

Listen here:


Take a moment of silence. What is the world telling you right now?

Indigenous Fire Practices
The Blomquist Piedmont Prairie during a controlled burn. Credit: Orla Siwft.


The Piedmont Prairie would not exist without Indigenous peoples’ fire management practices. However, colonial leaders and the early conservation movement advocated for the removal of Indigenous people. This led to the decline of the Piedmont Prairie and the near extinction of many species.

Roo (Catawba Nation) describes the importance of these formerly forbidden fire management practices and why they must continue today.  

Listen here:


How can human activity be beneficial to the environment rather than harmful?

Where Do We Go from Here?
Dancers in regalia at a Cohaire powwow in North Carolina. 
Credit: Cohaire Tribe.


How do we prioritize Indigenous people and also repair our own relationship with the environment? Roo (Catawba Nation) answers these questions and proposes a path towards a more equitable future. 

The best path forward is listening to Indigenous people and finding ways to support them. You can do this by choosing politicians who care about Indigenous issues and by donating to organizations like the Metrolina Native American Association. 

Listen here:


How can you support a local tribe? For example, you can make a donation, purchase art, or go to a powwow.  


Quinn Smith, Jr.

photo of Quinn Smith, Jr. in Duke Gardens

Quinn is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, majoring in public policy with a documentary studies certificate. As a documentarian, Quinn strives to challenge our misconceptions of Indigenous people by documenting a long-silenced, shared humanity.

What drew Quinn to the Equity through Stories Program was the ability to uplift Indigenous truths and to forge reciprocal relationships with Indigenous people throughout the Carolinas. Quinn does this by interviewing Indigenous people about their relationships with the land and weaving their stories into audio documentaries to be exhibited at the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants. He also initiates seed-sharing and other reciprocal ventures between Indigenous peoples and Blomquist Gardens. Quinn hopes that his work will help to re-educate Duke Garden’s 500,000+ annual visitors and to create a healing space for Indigenous people.

Visit Quinn's website here.