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HAMLET —People often think they have a fairly good grasp of the people living among them, but sometimes someone can open their eyes to a whole new world.
Such was the case Saturday at the Richmond County Human Relations Council Diversity Banquet at Cole Auditorium. The banquet’s headlined by a multiracial American Indian tribe from Allendale, S.C.
“We are very honored tonight to welcome representatives of the Yamasee tribe,” said Mistress of Ceremonies Kimberly Harrington. “Most people don’t know it, but there are black Indians. You can see that when you look at Chief Se’khu and his family.”
Grand Chief Se’khu Hidden Eagle Gentle and his mother, wife and children brought artifacts and shared stories of their heritage. They are black American Indians and that fact surprises a majority of people who were unaware that African slaves had been taken in by some native tribes after escaping. Those slaves joined the tribes, who welcomed them as equals.
Chief Se’khu expressed appreciation for the diversity in the audience. The banquet room, filled with 200 people representing every race in the county, listened carefully as he opened with a special message for women.
“Women must be respected in all our societies as givers of all life on Earth,” he said. “The most disappointing thing you can do is to forget your ancestors, the people and places you came from. We must pass this along to our children. Our pride as Yamasee came from our grandmothers. We are a matriarchal society and we know the power and honor of the strong women who have given us identity.”
Se’khu acknowledged his mother, affectionately called “Chief Red Crow” by the tribe, as the matriarch of his community. He reminded everyone at the banquet tables of a biblical quote from Book of Exodus: “Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”
Next, he addressed the importance of raising children according to that principle in order to strengthen community. He said that there is a problem with the youth of the modern world and that, because they have lost touch with their ancestors and heritages, they lack respect.
“You know who I mean,” he said. “The children, the older children, they walk around and speak all manner of disrespect toward their elders. That doesn’t happen in my tribe. A tribe is another kind of a community. Richmond has something here. This is your village, your community. If we have lost the respect of our young ones, it is because we have failed to instill in them the pride of their past.”
While many North Carolina residents are familiar with the Cherokee tribe, very few of the people gathered had ever heard of the Yamasee.
“In colonial times, ‘negro’ was a term applied by the Spaniards who conquered Florida, and it covered all people of dark skin color including Native Americans and African slaves,” Chief Se’khu said. “This was a divisive distinction, meant to help the colonists divide and conquer those who lived in the lands.”
He told the story of how the Yamasee came to settle in a wide swath of the South, from South Carolina to Northern Florida. Originally consisting of members of several southeastern tribes in a lose confederation, the Yamasee have close ties to the Seminole tribe and the Gullah people of the South Carolina and Georgia low-country region.
“For a long time, we fought for recognition as part of the Yamasee tribe,” Se’khu said. “But we now have that recognition. This book I hold in my hand is a history book used in the classrooms of the public schools in South Carolina. And this is me in this history book.”
The chief held up the history book for all to see.
“It is our heritage and our legacy,” he said. “We must never forget who we are on this day, at this time. Our job is to protect our children, and when we fail to pass down stories of the past, we fail to protect them from losing themselves.”
The event included several musical performances, including a parade of diversity in which people of white, black, Hispanic and Asian ancestry processed into the banquet hall wearing the traditional costumes of their cultures and dancing to Michael Jackson’s 1990s hit song “Black or White.”
The banquet has been held for more than a decade.