Coharie Tribe members are taking the 88-mile motorcycle ride through the Great Coharie Creek Basin in Sampson County, North Carolina to celebrate their culture and thank veterans and service personnel.
“We travel these highways as a way to reflect back on our ancestors,” said Vinnie Bryant, chairman of the Coharie People. “This ride attracts Natives and non-Natives alike.”
The 3rd Annual Warrior’s Memorial Ride is part of the two-day 44th Annual Coharie Indian Cultural Powwow, which starts Friday night at the Coharie Tribal Grounds.
The purpose of the Powwow is to celebrate the past, present, and future while trying to educate the general public about the Coharie People's history. It also honors the veterans who have sacrificed their lives for the country. But this year’s theme focuses on the courage, power and importance of women in Native communities.
The Coharie tribe will set aside $1 for every $3 dollars taken at the Spoken Word event–one of the programs at the pow wow–to be given to the family of Faith Hedgepeth, Haliwa Saponi. Hedgepeth was a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who was found dead in an off-campus apartment a year ago. Her death was ruled a homicide, but her murder is still unsolved.
Another highlight of the powwow is the dance and drum competitions. Some $10,500 in prize money will be awarded to the winners. The dances include southern and northern traditional, jingle dress, fancy, grass and chicken. Two additional dance specials will be determined at registration.
“This year we are expecting around 3,000 people attending our powwow,” said Bryant, adding that he estimates 150 dancers competing for the prize money. “The drum competition will be fierce with possibly eight drums showing up,” he said. The host drum for the powwow is Medicine Tail from Atmore, Alabama. The master of ceremonies is J.D. Moore of the Waccamaw-Siouan Tribe and the arena director is Rev. Ricky Burnette of the Lumbee Tribe.
While the annual event is a way to express Coharie culture—a tribe with 3,400 enrolled members residing in the Sampson and Harnett counties— the Haliwa-Saponi, Waccamaw-Siouan and Lumbee Tribes also participate by sharing their own song and dance traditions with the Coharie People.
In the Memorial Ride, for instance, Bryant said he counts members of these tribes in the 50 percent Native participation. “This ride has been growing annually and we are anticipating 150-200 motorcycles," Bryant said. "This ride is a symbolic gesture as our first powwow was highlighted by a horse parade from Clinton, North Carolina to our tribal grounds,” Bryant said.
Before this weekend’s festivities begin, the Coharie Tribe launched its first Annual Car Show. “The Car Show featured around thirty antique cars in which half were owned by Native Americans," Bryant said. "This event afforded us the opportunity to advertise our upcoming powwow while raising additional funding required."
Smokey River Drum Group, consisting of all Coharie Natives, entertained the crowd with a memorial song at the beginning and end of the car show. “It was definitely a success,” Bryant said.