As North Carolina continues to recover from the lingering impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, in terms of both health and the economy, the Haliwa-Saponi Tribe of Hollister moves forward in the recovery process with resilience.

With members living primarily in Warren and Halifax counties, the Haliwa-Saponi pride themselves on being a close-knit community where people help one another during difficult times, including the pandemic, which has affected North Carolina for a little over a year.

Haliwa-Saponi Tribal Chief Dr. Ogletree Richardson reflected on how COVID-19 affected the community and how tribal members are working together to bring about a better future.

She said that the Tribal Council, staff and volunteers have worked to prioritize the health and safety needs of Tribal citizens during the pandemic. The Tribal Council developed the Haliwa-Saponi COVID-19 Plan of Action with these needs in mind.

In addition to observing regular precautions such as social distancing and limiting the numbers of people at gatherings, the Tribe has taken a number of other health-related measures:

• North Carolina American Indian Tribal leaders participated in a listening session with Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen.

• Tribal Administrator Jamie Oxendine has worked with area healthcare providers to make testing and vaccination events available to the community. In partnership with the Halifax County Health Department and Rural Health Group, the Tribe sponsored free COVID-19 testing on Jan. 9, with 244 tests administered.

• Some 650 people received COVID-19 vaccines during a vaccination event on Feb. 6. 

Over the past year, Haliwa-Saponi Tribal members have felt the impact of the pandemic on a personal and a financial level.  The Tribe has mourned the loss of several of its citizens due to COVID-19: Wallace Evans, the Rev. Eardius Richardson, Cathy Reginia Richardson Evans and Dina Marie Reid Richardson. Members also mourned the loss of Tribal citizen and Haliwa-Saponi Tribal School student Kristia Makayla Richardson, who passed away at the age of 10. These members were honored with the lowering of the flag at the Tribal Governmental Complex to half-staff.

In addition, COVID-19 forced the cancellation of cultural events, most notably the Blooming of the Dogwood Pow-wow, a three-day event traditionally held in April to celebrate the Tribe’s state recognition. Oxendine told the newspaper last year that the event draws an average of 10,000 people per day, generating revenue for businesses ranging from gas stations to stores not only in the Hollister area, but over a wide region in the state.

The Tribe also faced the loss of other revenue sources, such as building rentals.

In addition, Tribal offices, daycares and businesses had to close on numerous occasions.

However, Richardson said that there is much to be optimistic about as the Haliwa-Saponi Tribe looks toward the future.

The pandemic that brought “normal life” to a standstill also brought Tribal members closer together as they reached out to one another to provide friendship to the isolated and help meet the needs of other people. The Tribe’s Facebook page, Haliwa-Saponi Voice, and new website, haliwa-saponi.org, provided other means of communication.

Tribal meetings that had been held in person were moved to virtual settings, and virtual learning became a way of life for Haliwa-Saponi Tribal School students. More recently, the school has moved to Plan B, combining in-person and virtual learning.

Partnerships have allowed for the distribution of food and personal protective equipment.

The Tribe has celebrated the dedication of two murals and accompanying statues reflecting Tribal history and culture, and the moving of tenants into new homes at Saponi Village on Capps Farm Road. Tribal members also completed paving projects at a number of tribal facilities and continue renovation work at a number of buildings. Members are currently working to expand its recreation area on Capps Farm Road.

Over the past year, Tribal representatives have participated in several ceremonies at the state level, and Chief Richardson participated in a COVID-19 public service announcement produced by the NC Department of Health and Human Services.

Signs of optimism are also evident in the planning of a Pow-wow for Sept. 17 and 18 and the opportunity for in-person committee meetings to resume as precautions and health guidelines allow.

As members of the Haliwa-Saponi Tribe look to the future, they are taking additional steps toward their ultimate goal of federal recognition as Attorney Joshua Richardson has joined these efforts and will assist the Haliwa-Saponi on other legal issues.

 With this optimism, Chief Richardson continues to caution the Tribal community to protect the health of others since the pandemic is not over.

“Going forward, please take all the necessary precautions to help stop the spread of COVID-19,” she said. “Wear your mask, wash your hands and practice social distancing.”