Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
“Sovereignty, trust and resilience” was the theme of the Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth National American Indian Heritage Month observance luncheon Nov. 15 at the Frontier Conference Center. It was also the theme of guest speaker Howard Brewington’s remarks.
Brewington commissioned into the Army in 1987 from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He retired from active duty in 2008. Currently, he serves as the deputy to the assistant chief of staff, CAC G-3/5/7. He is a member of the Coharie Tribe of Harnett and Sampson counties in North Carolina.
There are currently eight state-recognized tribes in North Carolina, including the Coharie. The tribe has 3,032 members with 20 percent of the population residing outside the tribal community.
Brewington said the feeling of sovereignty, trust and resilience has waivered throughout the history of the tribe.
In the 17th century, the Coharie were located in the more central region of the state until intertribal conflicts and competition over land and resources between American Indians and English colonials started numerous wars. The main source of trading with the colonists were deer skins and Indian captives. This brought about hardship for the tribe along with infectious diseases and a decimation of the society, Brewington said, causing the tribe’s move to its present location.
Sovereignty was gained in several ways following the move in the 1800s, Brewington said.
“The Coharies felt a right under state law to own and use firearms and to vote in local elections,” he said. “Sovereignty.”
However, in 1830, Indian civil rights were reduced when the Indian Removal Act was signed by President Andrew Jackson.
Then, in 1835, North Carolina passed legislation reducing the rights of non-whites.
“We lost the right to vote, the right to bear arms and the right to locally elect,” Brewington said. “Loss of trust.”
However, trust was slowly restored when the North Carolina State Convention removed the ban in 1868.
Then, sovereignty was regained again in 1911 when North Carolina gave the tribe its own school system. Before that, school was attended in the church building. However, school was still not a major priority.
“School was important until you were big enough and old enough to work,” Brewington said. “Not much changed by 1969. I worked in the field at 6 years old picking cotton, picking cucumbers, cropping tobacco, but that kind of work environment still gave me a work ethic that people see now.”
Brewington said the main source of resilience for the Coharie Tribe is religion.
“The churches still today are the center of Coharian tribal activity,” Brewington said. “It is through these churches that families interact and elders are honored.
“The Coharies’ sense of self is manifested most clearly through our religious activities,” he said, “and it is that grounding in religion that lays the foundation for our resilience.”
In the tribe today, education has a greater emphasis now, providing the second source of resilience, Brewington said.
“We want to make sure (the children) understand education is your way to stand out,” he said. “Education is what offers you the opportunity to expand your horizons.”
To close his remarks, Brewington said as a child he remembers walking through the cemeteries throughout the different tribal settlements and seeing more than half of the gravestones identifying service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, including his grandfathers, uncles and his father.
“I can remember each and every one of them talking about their experiences. I remember them talking about their service and how proud they were of their service to our country and how proud I am that I could serve as well,” he said.
“While we do these observances and we get together once a month and talk about the things that make us different and talk about our diversity and highlight those differences, the rest of the month, we focus on those things that make us the same. Our profession, our ethic, our values, our Army culture, there is none like it in the world.”