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Total population
Enrolled members: 4,300
Regions with significant populations
 United States North Carolina
English, formerly Tutelo-Saponi
Related ethnic groups
Saponi, Nansemond

The Haliwa-Saponi is a Native American people recognized as a tribe by the state of North Carolina. They are located in the Northeastern Piedmont area. The Haliwa-Saponi hold membership on the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs.

The name Haliwa is derived from the two counties: Halifax and Warren, which are the ancestral homelands of the Haliwa people dating from the 1730s. They re-organized and adopted their current form of government in 1953 and were recognized in 1965 by the state of North Carolina. In 1979 the tribe added Saponi to their name to reflect their descent from the historical Saponi peoples, part of the large Siouan languages family, who were formerly located in the Piedmont of present-day Virginia and the Carolinas.

Since the late nineteenth century, the tribe has created schools and other institutions to preserve its culture and identity. Their common worship in Protestant churches, mostly Baptist and Methodist, has long acted to support community traditions. For years the people were also united through their subsistence activities and oral traditions. Today the young people readily use technology among their skills, while creating to new arts and crafts related to traditions.


The Haliwa-Saponi comprise slightly more than 3,800 enrolled citizens. About 80% of tribal members reside within a 6-mile radius of the small unincorporated town of Hollister, in Halifax and Warren counties. Some tribal members are also located in Nash and Franklin counties.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, approximately 2,737 Native Americans reside in Halifax and Warren counties, representing 3.5% of the total combined population. Between 1980 and 2000, the Native American population of the two counties increased by 48%, according to self-identification on the United State Census. During that time, the Black population increased by 15%, the Hispanic population increased by 50%, and the White population decreased by 5%.

The Haliwa-Saponi host one of the largest pow-wows in the state of North Carolina, held annually the third weekend in April of each year to celebrate the anniversary of the tribe's state recognition. The Pow-Wow is held at the Haliwa-Saponi Tribal School, located on tribal grounds.


The Haliwa-Saponi Indian Tribe is governed by an eleven-member Council elected to three-year staggered terms by the enrolled citizens of the Tribe; these include an elected Chief and Vice-Chief.[1]


Members founded the Haliwa-Saponi Tribal School in 1957, which was assisted by the state as a public school. All other public schools had long been segregated as white or black (all people of color) under state law, and the Haliwa Saponi claimed a separate identity. The school closed in the late 1960s following the court-ordered integration of public schools on constitutional grounds.

In 1999, with funds from the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI), the tribe established a charter school in the same building as the earlier tribal school. Focused on Haliwa-Saponi culture, this new school has expanded in space and enrollment over time, and by 2007 served grades K-12.

In 1977 the tribe established the Haliwa-Saponi Day Care Center, to serve children aged two to five. The tribe manages a myriad of programs and services for its citizens, including, but not limited to, housing, substance-abuse-prevention programs, cultural programs and others.


The tribe's annual pow-wow was opened to the public in 1965 to celebrate state recognition of the tribal nation. Originating in the pan-Indian movement, the pow-wow "also builds on local and regional values, and ideas about tribe, community and race."[2] Held the third weekend of April, the pow-wow is funded in part by ad sales, donations, corporate funding and gate receipts, in addition to grants from the North Carolina Arts Council. More than 100 volunteers and staff make the pow-wow happen. Attendance for the three-day event ranges from 9,000 to 10,000.

The tribe also operates a cultural retention program for tribal citizens of all ages, held at the tribe's multi-purpose building. The program includes instruction in pottery, beadwork/regalia design and construction, dance/drum classes, and Haliwa-Saponi history, as well as day trips to culturally relevant locations.


The Haliwa-Saponi descend from the Tuscarora, Nansemond & Saponi a Siouan-speaking Native American tribe of North America's Southeastern Piedmont. In 1670, John Lederer, a German surveyor, visited a Saponi settlement along the Staunton (now the Roanoke River) River in southern Virginia. Thirty years later, John Lawson, commissioned by the Lords Proprietor to survey the Carolina colony's interior, encountered groups of Saponi as they conducted trade.

Throughout the post-contact period of increasing English colonial settlement and expansion, southeastern Siouan Piedmont peoples such as the Saponi maintained autonomous villages in what is now southern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. During the late 17th century, the Saponi undertook a political alliance with the culturally related Tottero, or Tutelo; together they comprised the Nassaw Nation. Due to frequent incursions into Saponi territory by the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Five Nations) from present-day New York and Pennsylvania, the Saponi and their allies temporarily relocated. They migrated south through the regions of present-day Virginia and North Carolina, while continuing to seek economically and militarily advantageous alliances.

Eighteenth century[edit]

By the beginning of the century, continuous warfare with the Haudenosaunee and, especially, repeated outbreaks of infectious diseases contracted from Europeans reduced the once populous Saponi. Joining with the Tottero, the Saponi migrated to northeastern North Carolina to be closer to the center of Virginia's colonial trade and gradually became allied with the colonists. In 1711, the Carolina colony went to war with the powerful Iroquoian-speaking Tuscarora, in part because the latter resisted Indian slavery.

With the defeat of the Tuscarora two years later, the colony and its allied Saponi met in Williamsburg with the Tuscarora and Nottoway to discuss the terms of peace. Most of the Tuscarora migrated from Carolina to present-day New York, where by 1722 they were adopted as the Sixth Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy, to whom they were related by language and culture. The Saponi entered into a new treaty of trade with Virginia's governor, Alexander Spotswood.

On February 27, 1714, the Virginia colony reached an agreement. The remnants of the Saponi, Tottero, Occaneechi, Keyauwee, Enoke (or Eno), and Shakori formally coalesced, becoming "The Saponi Nation."[3] Another band, the Stuckanox, soon joined the Saponi Nation. Despite the success in treaty-making and tribal coalitions, the years between 1709 and 1714 were extremely difficult. Disease caused continuing population decline. Travelers enumerated the Saponi Nation at a little more than 300 people. That same year, the Virginia Council asked the Nansemond tribe to merge with the Saponi to strengthen their settlements. They hoped these people could create a buffer between Virginia's plantation settlements, other Southeastern Siouan Piedmont Native Americans, and the Haudenosaunee from the North.

Fort Christanna[edit]

To strengthen Virginia's borders, Alexander Spotswood convinced the colonial Board of Trade to approve the establishment of Fort Christanna between the Roanoke and Meherrin rivers, about thirty-two miles north of the present-day Haliwa-Saponi powwow grounds. Fort Christanna was built to protect the Virginia colony in two critical ways: as a bulwark intended to ward off military assault, and as a center for the Christian conversion and education of the Saponi and other Southeastern groups. Fort Christanna also served as a major trading post for the corporate Virginia Indian Company.

Decline of Indian trade[edit]

Roughly seventy Saponi children were educated and converted to Christianity at Fort Christanna by the missionary teacher Charles Griffin of North Carolina. By 1717, under charges of monopoly, the Colonial Board of Trade lost interest in the Fort and ordered the Virginia Indian Company to disband and dissolve. The Saponi Nation continued to maintain peaceful trade relations with the colony. A portion of the Saponi Nation continued living in the Fort Christanna area from 1717 to 1729. Another group of Saponi migrated into northern Virginia, near Fredericksburg on the Rapahannock River.

Historians Marvin Richardson and C. S. Everett note historical documentation for the modern Haliwa-Saponi tribe as descending from a group that arose during the 1730s, a tumultuous time of decline of the Indian trade. The divisive Tuscarora and Yamasee wars affected colonists, Native Americans and Indian trade in Virginia and the Carolinas.[2] Remnants of smaller tribes coalesced after this period to continue their Indian culture and identity. A group of Saponi migrated south to the militarily and linguistically related Catawba, in what is now northeastern South Carolina. They occupied a village there from 1729 to 1732, but in 1733 returned to the Fort Christianna area with some Cheraw. Discovering that colonists had taken patents on their traditional territory, the Saponi made agreements with Virginia for new lands.

They also made a separate arrangement with the remaining band of Tuscarora in April 1733, to live with them and under their sovereignty. The majority of the Saponi migrated to North Carolina with traders and planters, settling in what are now Halifax and Warren counties.[2] Fewer went to the reservation for the Tuscarora, known as Reskooteh Town and Indian Wood.[2] It was located in Bertie County. The reservation consisted initially of 40,000 acres (160 km²) and bordered eastern Halifax County.

By 1734, some Algonquian-speaking Nansemond lived with the Nottoway in Virginia. Other Nansemond had resettled near the Tuscarora in North Carolina.

During the 1730s and 1740s and through the time of the American Revolution, because of living in more diverse areas, the Saponi intermarried with European colonists and free people of color, but Saponi mothers raised their mixed-race children in Saponi culture. After the Revolution, the Native Americans maintained a separate identity from both the European Americans and African Americans, and married mostly within the Indian community. In addition, they created institutions to support their cultural identity as American Indians.[2]

Virginia traders such as Colonel William Eaton, who wanted to continue their business relations with the tribes, also migrated to North Carolina. He was a resident of "Old Granville" (modern day Franklin, Warren, and Vance) counties. He traded with the Saponi, Catawba, and others.


In 1740 most of the remaining Saponi in Virginia moved north to Pennsylvania and New York, where they merged with the Iroquois for protection. After the American Revolutionary War and victory by the colonists, they moved with the Iroquois to Canada, as four of the six nations had been allies of the British and were forced to cede their territories in New York State. The British government provided land and some relocation assistance to their Iroquois allies. This was the last time in which the Saponi tribe appeared in the historical record.[4] The families are known to be descendants of and closely associated into the core Richardson, Silver, Mills, Evans, Hedgepath and Lynch families. Most Haliwa-Saponi Indians trace direct lineage to Benjamin Richardson ( the core Richardson family consisting of Emily Richardson & Frank Richardson, Mason Richardson, Rhease Richardson, Eliza Silver, Alfred & Hardie Richardson), Martha Silver, Patsy Lynch ( Mother of Charles Lynch), James Evans, Stephen Hedgepeth, Nathan Mills & others.

From the 1730s to the 1770s, Haliwa-Saponi ancestors settled in and near the modern Haliwa-Saponi area in North Carolina. The Haliwa-Saponi community began coalescing in "The Meadows" of southwestern Halifax County, North Carolina immediately after the American Revolution.[2] Much reduced in number, the few remaining Tuscarora migrated from Bertie County to New York in 1804, joining others on a reservation there.[2] Their reservation land in North Carolina had been steadily reduced through the eighteenth century and was finally sold off.

Nineteenth century[edit]

During the early 19th century, ancestral Haliwa-Saponi remained relatively isolated in the Meadows. They attempted to live peaceably alongside their neighbors. During the 1830s, when the United States enforced policies to remove all Indians living east of the Mississippi River, the federal government basically ignored most of the relatively landless and powerless small tribes settled in the southeastern Coastal Plain. Haliwa-Saponi tribal elders tell of several families who voluntarily migrated west to Indian Territory on their own, some merging into the general population, while others were adopted by one of the so-called Five Civilized Tribes from the Southeast.

Over the course of the 19th century, the Haliwa-Saponi maintained a tight-knit tribal community in modern Halifax, Warren, Nash, and Franklin counties and generally practiced endogamy. Having become Christian, they belonged mostly to the predominant Protestant churches: the first they established was Jeremiah Methodist Church in the mid-1870s in Halifax County. Later some of the congregation left and built the Pine Chapel Baptist Church.[2]

While the Reconstruction legislature established public school systems for the first time after the American Civil War, legislators were forced to accept segregated schools to get the bill passed. In the binary system that evolved out of the slave society of the South, especially as whites tried to restore white supremacy after Reconstruction, they classified most mixed-race people of any visible African ancestry as black (colored), although ethnic Indians had traditionally had rights as free people of color for decades before the Civil War. Haliwa-Saponi children were required to go to schools with the children of newly emancipated freedmen. After 1877 and the end of Reconstruction, the Haliwa spent the late 19th century fighting for separate Indian schools. They also organized a more formal tribal governance structure. In the 1870s the Haliwa-Saponi began meeting at Silver Hill, a remote location within the Meadows.[2]

With the rise of Jim Crow laws in the late 19th century, the Haliwa-Saponi and African Americans were disfranchised by state law in 1896 and a new constitution in 1899 that was discriminatory in the application of poll taxes, literacy tests and grandfather clauses. This was the pattern for every former Confederate state, beginning with Mississippi in 1890 and proceeding through 1908. The Haliwa continued their efforts to build and maintain separate cultural institutions.[2]

These early efforts at formal re-organization resulted in approval by the state for Indian schools: Bethlehem School (1882) in Warren County and the Secret Hill School in Halifax County. Early tribal leaders worked to start the process of reorganizing tribal government and gaining recognition, but in the post-Reconstruction era with the rise of Jim Crow laws, they found little support. In the segregated state, few official records of the period recorded any people as Indian.[2]

Twentieth century[edit]

Richardson and Everett note that issues of race and ethnicity became more complex when numerous African-American laborers were recruited in 1906 for a growing timber industry and moved with their families into the Meadows area. By 1908 they started to attend Pine Chapel Baptist Church, but some Haliwa wanted to have separate worship and started a third church, St. Paul's Baptist Church. It had an all-Indian congregation until the 1950s.[2]

Later in the twentieth century, the Indian schools closed because segregated public schools were found to be unconstitutional. Tribal leaders in the 1940s, including John C. Hedgepeth, tried to have birth certificates of members indicate their Indian ethnicity, with little success. The state classified people as only black (colored) or white.[2]

In 1953, the tribe re-organized its government into the current structure, through the leadership of Hedgepeth, Lonnie Richardson, B.B. Richardson, Chief Jerry Richardson (First Chief under the new governance structure), Percy Richardson (Second Chief under the new governance structure, who also served as the first Vice Chief after the reorganization), with W. R. Richardson the Third Chief of the tribe, James Mills, Theadore Lynch, and others.

After the US Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs. The Board of Education (1954) that segregation of public schools was unconstitutional, the state undertook resistance by what was called the Pearsall Plan, which allowed municipalities to make funds available to create private neighborhood schools.[2] The Haliwa-Saponi took advantage of this provision to build and operate the private Haliwa Indian School, which was attended only by Indian children. It was the only tribally supported Indian school that was not on a reservation. They operated it from 1957-1969. After a few years of its operation, the State Department of Public Instruction (DPI) provided funding for teacher salaries. Tribal citizens paid for supplies and materials, the building, and maintenance, much as parents do at parochial schools.

In 1957, the Haliwa Indian Tribe built the Saponi Indian Church, since renamed Mt. Bethel Indian Baptist Church, in Warren County. Sometimes other people of color, resented the Indians' separate ethnic identity within the segregated social system. The increasing African-American activism for civil rights highlighted some of the tensions between the ethnicities.[2]

In 1965, North Carolina formally recognized the Haliwa Indian Tribe. In 1967 the Haliwa opened their tenth annual Haliwa Pow-wow to the public, inviting state and local officials and Indians from other states. They added Saponi to the tribal name in 1979 to reflect their Siouan ancestry.

The Tribe has since built an updated headquarters administration building, multipurpose building, and instituted various service programs. Programs include but are not limited to tribal housing, daycare, senior citizens program, community services, Workforce Investment Act, cultural retention, after-school and youth programs, energy assistance, and economic development.

The Haliwa-Saponi opened a school in 2000, the Haliwa-Saponi Tribal School, 98% of whose students are Indian. The school (which is a public charter school) has a curriculum based on the NC state standard course of study, small classrooms, technology, and American Indian Studies. The Haliwa-Saponi continue to be culturally active. The tribe is proud of the community's many dancers, singers, artists, advanced degree students, and young professionals.


In 2011 the Haliwa tribe was audited by the state of North Carolina and found to have submitted an inaccurate grant application.

"The audit, prompted by a citizen's complaint, alleged false information was included on the tribe's grant application to Golden LEAF for the project." "It found the tribe misrepresented itself in saying it had tribal council review and approval for the grant, an approved loan for $700,000 and a $600,000 HUD grant for matching funds, because "HUD does not permit the use of its Indian Housing Block Grant funds for projects that have been rejected by a tribe."

Testing irregularities in the 2010-11 academic year at Haliwa-Saponi Tribal School resulted in 9 student's Biology test scores being invalidated and Haliwa-Saponi Tribal School Principal Chenoa Davis resigning. Community members expressed concerns related to the investigation during a meeting of the school board. The Rev. Ronald Richardson, tribal chief of the Haliwa-Saponi, said that the tribe should work out its own problems without newspaper publicity. School board Chairman Gideon Lee declined to identify the teacher in question who downloaded state biology test information, but said that action has been taken against those determined to be involved. [5][6][7]

Notable Saponi[edit]


  1. ^ Haliwa-Saponi Tribe Website
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Richardson, Marvin, and C.S. Everett. "Ethnicity Affirmed: The Haliwa-Saponi and the Dance, Culture, and Meaning of North Carolina Powwows", in Signifying Serpents and Mardi Gras Runners: Representing Identity in Selected Souths, ed. Celeste Ray and Luke Eric Lassiter. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2003, accessed 16 June 2011
  3. ^ "Upper Tar Game Land Complex Management Plan" (PDF). North Carolina Resources Commission. Retrieved 28 January 2019.
  4. ^ Henry H. Mitchell, "Rediscovering Pittsylvania's “Missing” Native Americans", The Pittsylvania Packet (Pittsylvania Historical Society, 1997, pp. 4–8, accessed 16 June 2011
  5. ^ "Costly mistake: Haliwa-Saponi Tribe loses out on $316,000 due to grant miscues ". The Daily Herald, 5 May 2011
  6. ^ State of North Carolina investigative report"
  7. ^ "Tribal school test scores invalidated". Warren Record, August 11, 2011. CHENOA DAVIS.
  8. ^ NBC: The Voice, Season 13 Brooke Simpson https://www.nbc.com/the-voice/credits/credit/season-13/brooke-simpson
  9. ^ Cameron Lynch


  • Cumming, William P. Mapping the North Carolina Coast: Sixteenth-Century Cartography and the Roanoke Voyages, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources: Division of Archives and History, 1988.
  • Farris, Phoebe. "Images of Urban Native Americans: The Border Zones of Mixed Identities", Journal of American Culture 20 (Spring 1997).
  • Howard, James H. "Pan-Indianism in Native American Music and Dance," Ethnomusicology 27 (Jan., 1983): 71-82.
  • Lawson, John. A New Voyage to Carolina, ed. Hugh Talmadge Lefler. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1967.
  • Leaming, Hugh P. Hidden Americans: Maroons of Virginia and the Carolinas, New York, NY: Garland Publishing, 1995.
  • Lederer, John. The Discoveries of John Lederer, Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms, 1966.
  • The Daily Herald "Costly mistake: Haliwa-Saponi Tribe loses out on $316,000 due to grant miscues", Thu May 5, 2011
  • State of North Carolina investigative report, "State of North Carolina investigative report", April 2011
  • Tribal school test scores invalidated , "The Warren Record", August 17, 2011

External links[edit]