Carolina Curious: Who Are The Indigenous People Of Winston-Salem?

Carolina Curious: Who Are The Indigenous People Of Winston-Salem?

4:00pm Jun 23, 2021
Wake Forest University anthropological archaeologist Paul Thacker busy at work in the archaeology laboratory that he directs on campus. DAVID FORD/WFDD

Catherine Greene is a Montessori schoolteacher whose own studies focused on anti-bias and anti-racism education.

She writes, "I'm curious about who are the indigenous people of Winston-Salem and how we acquired the land that we now live in."

Centuries ago, a half-dozen or more distinct societies occupied parts of what we call the Triad today. Wake Forest University anthropology professor Paul Thacker says many had their own unique dialects and cultures, yet there was much interaction between them.

Interview Highlights

Were there any known native tribes in the Piedmont area before the earliest settlers arrived?

The first Spanish entrada into the southeast, in the 1500s, followed directly in the Triad by the excursions and explorations of Juan Pardo in the 1570s, introduced a series of both political and economic challenges as well as devastating European diseases. The groups that were here in the Piedmont Triad were decimated by these diseases. Seventy-five percent of their population was lost, or more in many cases. And this shattering, this violence, this tremendous impact of diseases was then compounded by the expansion eventually, by the 1700s, of English explorers, followed by the Moravians into this region. And as the pressures of trade and direct conflict over territory and area, and the reorganization that was required by Native American communities to respond to these new pressures, things changed. By the 1700s, the Saura, for example, were one such group. The Keyauwee, we were another group that lived in this region. 

What if any interactions did the early Moravians have with native people in this region?

By the time the Moravians arrived in the area of Wachovia, and what eventually became Forsyth County, the landscape was largely empty of Native Americans. And most of the interactions recorded by Moravians during the late 1700s and early 1800s were actually with Cherokee traders and entrepreneurs who had expanded eastward to fill the void left by the societies that had evacuated and moved and sought refuge to the south. And so the trading networks and the expansion of the English frontier, the Cherokee came to dominate that and also, as a result, the interactions with the Moravians here at a Bethabara and then eventually at Salem.

Do you feel that some sort of land acknowledgment would be appropriate here, and if so, what sorts of guidelines would you suggest?

So, the obligation, whenever we tell the story or construct a land acknowledgment is to open a conversation. And that conversation needs to be about issues of sovereignty, autonomy, issues of relevance for contemporary Native American peoples. The past has relevance today, and the legacy of the colonial experience that Native Americans underwent, is today still with us. And so, it's one thing to have a land acknowledgment, but it's another thing to acknowledge the responsibility that we have to contemporary Native Americans. You name the issue — economic inequality, policing, education— these are all critical issues for Native American societies today. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This transcript was lightly edited for clarity.

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