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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          NEWS SERVICES
210 Pittsboro Street, Campus Box 6210
Chapel Hill, NC  27599-6210
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For immediate use

April 15, 2004 -- No. 214

Note: See coverage notes, photo URL, end of story.

Local angles: Lumberton, Warrenton;
Halifax and Warren counties

American Indian blessing, dance,
to be part of art dedication at UNC

UNC News Services

CHAPEL HILL – Two huge turtles are always on the plaza between the original building and the expansion of the Frank Porter Graham Student Union at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

With them are ears of corn, eagle feathers and other symbols significant to most American Indians of the southeastern United States. Depicted in light-colored bricks set among the dark red brick of the walkway, the symbols form "The Gift," a new public art work and the campus’s first monument to the American Indian.

"The Gift" will be dedicated and its creator, Haliwa-Saponi artist Senora Lynch of Warrenton, honored at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday (April 20) in a free public ceremony beside the artwork, roughly 240 feet long and 40 feet wide. "All the designs symbolize the gifts we are given to live here on this Earth together," Lynch said.

Greg Richardson, executive director of the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs, will speak. "This will be a historic event for UNC-Chapel Hill," said Richardson, who is Haliwa-Saponi. "For American Indian art to placed on the walkway sends a strong message to the Indian community, and also perhaps to other universities in terms of what they might do to recognize the first Americans."

A blessing by UNC junior Derek Oxendine of Lumberton, president of the student group Carolina Indian Circle, will open the ceremony. He’ll burn one or more of the four sacred herbs – tobacco, sweet grass, sage and cedar – during his prayer. A Lumbee, Oxendine said blessings are almost always given by elders, and he was surprised and honored when "Miss Senora" asked him to do so.

The herbs, used in purification rituals, also are gifts from the creator, he said. Arnold Richardson, a young man from Lynch’s tribe, will wear traditional regalia and accompany the blessing on his flute. Lynch’s daughter Qua Lynch, 15, also in traditional dress, will perform the jingle dance, a spiritual and healing ritual. Lynch will be honored and refreshments served.

Oxendine hailed "The Gift," noting that "North Carolina has one of the highest Native American populations in the United States," with more than 80,000 Indians.

Last fall, Carolina had 204 American Indian students within a total enrollment of 26,359, about .8 percent – reflecting the percentage in the state. Indian studies courses are offered in disciplines including anthropology and American studies.

Besides Oxendine’s 30-member group, there are a provost’s committee on Native American issues, a Native American Law Students Association and a First Nation Graduate Circle, said Danny Bell of the American studies curriculum, who supports Indian studies, activities and groups at UNC.

At the union, "Our job is to build a sense of community," said Don Luse, director. "You do that not just with programs, but with the physical space as well." Students on the Carolina Union Activities Board, several student union presidents and the staff kept that in mind while guiding the building’s recent $15 million renovation and expansion, funded by student fees over four years.

"We said, ‘Who is a part of this community that there are no symbols for?’ " Luse recalled. Their answer led to the idea of a public artwork. "This state has a strong identification with Native Americans, and the university has Native American students, faculty, staff and programs," Luse said. Someone suggested Lynch, who was recruited and paired with architects, and the installation began.

"Saponi" means "people of the red clay," said Lynch. Thus she crafts pottery from clay, working also with beads and leather. A former Title IX Indian Education Coordinator for the Warren County Schools, Lynch has had work in more than a dozen exhibits, in venues ranging from the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh to many others across the state and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

She has been an artist-in-residence in schools in Raleigh and Greensboro, demonstrated her craft in venues from North Carolina to Hartford, Conn., and was nominated for a Distinguished Women of North Carolina Award in 1999, for outstanding service and significant contributions in the arts.

Designing patterns in brick transferred logically from beadwork, and Lynch to brick from clay. She was nervous about her first large-scale work, but it appears perfectly proportioned from an enclosed pedestrian bridge above it, which connects the original union building to the expansion.

Now, Lynch is creating a 7-foot replica of "The Gift" in beads on leather, which will hang in the bridge and explain the larger artwork below. Design and installation of the larger work cost approximately $15,000 and part of the total building project budget, Luse said. Union funds and the activities board paid the artist, and the activities board is funding the replica.

The bridge is the best viewing spot for the straight line of images, with a warrior’s protective shield of eagle feathers at its center. "The eagle feather, in our culture, is the highest honor you can receive," Lynch said. On either side are the turtles and corn, signifying, respectively, a long life, like the turtle’s, and the staff of life. "Corn kept us alive and strong for many, many years," Lynch said. "And it’s been part of the economic system for North Carolina forever."

The turtle was the symbol of the original Saponi tribe, of North Carolina and Virginia along the Roanoke River, she said. Today, descendants of three tribes, mostly the Saponi, are recognized as Haliwa-Saponi. The first word represents the counties where they live, Halifax and Warren. They are North Carolina’s third largest tribe, with about 3,000 members, after the Lumbee with more than 55,000 and the Eastern Band of the Cherokee with more than 13,000.

"The Gift" also contains wavy lines representing water and jagged ones for mountains, "the gift of the land," Lynch said. "Mother Earth gives us life itself." Straight lines parallel with the turtles’ legs indicate the path of life, plus a path into the design. At the end nearest the Student Stores, the lines angle outward to welcome viewers. At the opposite end is a medicine wheel.

"The wheel represents the unity of all people coming together and having respect for each other," Lynch said. "Also, the full circle of life, from birth to childhood to adulthood, old age and to birth again. To me, it kind of symbolized someone coming to college and starting a new life."

Dr. Archie Ervin, minority affairs director and assistant to the chancellor, said the artwork fits well with UNC’s mission to serve and represent all the populations of North Carolina.

"To have a permanent fixture like this is a key indicator of our ever-increasing commitment to make our campus community feel warmer toward all of our students, faculty and staff," he said. "We’re trying to attract the best and brightest students in our own state, and to find ways to make our campus more attractive to American Indian students."

Indian students already enrolled have noticed and are excited about the work, said Bell, who is Lumbee-Coharie. "This is a public artwork that’s out in the open, and not limited to visiting hours," he said. "I hope people will be able to see this artwork and get some awareness of the American Indian community at Carolina," he said. "It’s wonderful to see our culture available to others, and to ourselves, as part of the educational climate at the university."

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Note: For a photo of Lynch, visit  Media covering the ceremony may park in a small lot off Raleigh Street near South Road. When driving into campus on South Road, also N.C. 54 from I-40, go straight at the stoplight at Country Club Road, then turn right onto Raleigh and left into the lot. Additional media parking will be in another lot on the left, farther along Raleigh Street, at hooded meters. Lynch, Oxendine and others will be available for interviews after the ceremony.

For more information about American Indians in North Carolina, visit

Union contact: Don Luse, 919-966-3120,

Senora Lynch: 252-257-5771

News Services contact: L.J. Toler, 919-962-8589,