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The Shape of Water: A Tribe’s Connection and Conservation Efforts to North Carolina’s Waterways.

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The Coharie river

The Coharie tribe and their relationship with the water runs deep. 

CLINTON, N.C., November 28, 2023- Sampson County is home to the Coharie Indian Tribe. The Coharie’s descend from the aboriginal tribe of the Neusiok Indians and the current tribal roll has 3,032 members with 80% residing in Sampson and Harnett Counties. The tribe is one of the seven state recognized tribes in North Carolina with their namesake being imprinted on vital waterways, that can be recognized through two major rivers, the Little Coharie River, and Great Coharie. These waterways are a lifeline for the tribe and great efforts have been made to protect the rivers. 

The Sampson Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) has been a large advocate for the Coharie Tribe. Tribal administrators and members along with district staff worked tirelessly following Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Florence in 2018 to request funds from the state to help restore the waterways in Sampson to make them navigable again. The Coharie people believe these waters are a way to support and protect the community.

“We’ve got a saying here that the river is always taking care of us, and now its calling out for help and we have to take care of it”, said Greg Jacobs, Tribal Administrator for the Coharie Intra-Tribal Council during a short film produced by Carmen Atwater. 

These tireless efforts did not go unnoticed in 2019, The Coharie Tribe was announced by Governor Roy Cooper as the Water Conservationist of the Year. They were praised for their efforts to find grant funding, involve multiple stakeholders like the local community, academics, and scientists to help clear the river for small scale boats navigation and reconnect the tribe to its ancestral waters.
Federal assistance has been just as noticeable in the community, the United States Department of Agriculture - Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) of North Carolina has worked directly and indirectly with tribal members and provided technical and financial assistance, notably the agency and the tribe have been actively working together in the National Water Quality Initiative. 

The National Water Quality Initiative covers a large portion of the Great Coharie. USDA-NRCS is investing in this area to ensure resources are well protected and the agency can reach as many tribal members and neighbors as possible to continue to support the tribe’s efforts to protect the waterways. Floodwise is another project in the Coharie Tribal Communities to look at ways to protect from future flooding events. The USDA-NRCS, North Carolina State University (NCSU), Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Sampson SWCD, and Coharie Tribe have teamed up to look for potential areas of impact and ways to manage these areas to avoid negative impact. 

“The river means so much for the Coharie tribe and their culture, and it’s an honor to be a valued partner in conserving this rich waterway”, said Tim Beard, State Conservationist for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in North Carolina.

The tribe has also been actively pursuing additional conservation efforts. The tribe along with the assistance of USDA-NRCS has implemented waste storage facilities, animal mortality facilities, forestry, seasonal high tunnels, and cover crop. The Coharie Tribe is ensuring every day that the land is taken care of, that the water is taken care of; because the land heals people, and the water heals people.

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