Chances are you’ve never heard of the Saponi Tribe.
They are the indigenous people of Western Virginia and the Piedmont area of North Carolina, related to the Catawba. The first settlers from Europe met the Saponi in 1670, and my ancestors from Ulster colonized the same area about 65 years later. According to the Rowan County North Carolina History Project:
The Saponi and Catawba were the first Native Americans to reside in present-day Rowan County. German and Scotch-Irish settlers from the northern colonies of Pennsylvania and Virginia, traveled the Great Wagon Road to Rowan. Farmers took advantage of the fertile soil in Rowan and the county grew throughout the 1740s and 1750s.
By 1837 all the indigenous people had either succumbed to disease, died in war, or been driven out of the area. My family has lived there since the mid-1700s.
To be indigenous means that you were the original occupants of the land. It means that your ancestors did not take the land by invasion. The Saponi were – as far as anyone knows – the original occupants of Rowan County, North Carolina and they are long gone. But I still have family there today.
This is information I need to know as a human being. And today – Indigenous People’s Day – is a good day for all of us to do a little research.
Who lived at your current address before you lived there? And who lived there before them? And before them? And before them? Once long ago there were original occupants of the the land where we currently live. It’s important that we know what became of them and their descendants.
- Were they killed in battle?
- Were they forced to resettle?
- Were they exposed to disease brought in by colonizers?
It’s important to know because – at least in my own understanding of theology – the sins of the world are corporate sins. Although I didn’t personally displace any Native Americans, I have benefited from the actions of those who did. It’s something to remember when we congratulate ourselves for “being blessed” with success and prosperity.
I am indeed blessed. I would also call it white privilege. I enjoy the enormous privilege of having pale skin and European ancestry.
This is the day we remember the original occupants of the United States of America. This is the day we ask God to help us be better human beings than we’ve been in the past.
Image from the June 2019 Saponi Nation Pow Wow in Burlington, North Carolina.