October 19, 2015
In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. —Dennis Zotigh
Please introduce yourself with your name and title.
Dr. Brucie Ogletree Richardson. I'm chief of the Haliwa–Saponi Indian Tribe.
Can you share your Native name and its English translation, or your nickname?
My nickname is Glee. Representing the tribe, I usually go by Chief Ogletree.
Where is your tribal community located?
Most tribal members live in Halifax and Warren counties, North Carolina. The community is also known as Hollister.
Where were your people originally from?
We still live where we're originally from, in Halifax, Warren, and the surrounding counties in North Carolina.
Is there a significant point in your tribe's history that you would like to share?
The Haliwa–Saponi Indian Tribe received state recognition on April 15, 1965.
How is your tribal government set up?
The Haliwa–Saponi Indian Tribe is governed by 11 Tribal Council members, inclusive of the chief and vice chief.
Is there any other functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?
Not to my knowledge.
How often are elected leaders chosen?
Leaders are elected to three-year staggered terms during the annual election.
How often does your government meet?
Regular Tribal Council meetings and regular meetings of the general tribal body are held on a monthly basis.
What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?
As chief, I am responsible for representing and promoting the cultural and traditional heritage of the tribe to its members and the public. Also, I preside at all annual, general, and special meetings of the tribe. At each tribal meeting, I share information that I consider proper concerning the business affairs and policies of the tribe.
How did your life experience prepare you to lead your tribe?
A Halifax County native, I am the daughter of the late Allen Randolph and Lillie Blanche Hedgepeth Green. I am the middle child of a family of 15 children. As a member of Mount Bethel Indian Baptist Church, I am actively involved in church activities, which include serving as an assistant musician and as a member of the scholarship committee and Women on Missions.
In 1961, I graduated from the Haliwa Indian School. After graduating from Nash Community College and North Carolina Wesleyan College, I earned a master’s degree in educational administration, an educational specialist degree, and a doctoral degree in educational administration. While pursing my doctorate, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Sweden. As a life-long tribal member, I have experienced changes in tribal activities locally, statewide, and nationally.
Who inspired you as a mentor?
My mentors and inspiration include my parents, husband, children, and other tribal members.
Approximately how many members are in your tribe?
The Haliwa–Saponi Tribe has 4,300 enrolled members. Approximately 2,700, or 62 percent, live in a very tight-knit tribal community in the northeastern section of North Carolina.
What are the criteria to become a member?
Membership consist of individuals who have successfully applied for and met the enrollment criteria as stated in the tribe’s bylaws and who have been accepted into the tribe by the Tribal Council and the general tribal membership.
Is your language still spoken on your homelands? If so, what percentage of your people would you estimate are fluent speakers?
Only a small percentage of our members know or use our language, Tutelo–Saponi. The resurrection of our language has begun, and several drum groups sing in Tutelo–Saponi.
What annual events does the tribe sponsor?
We host the annual Haliwa–Saponi Powwow in April to commemorate the tribe’s recognition by the state of North Carolina.
What other attractions are available for visitors on your land?
We are proud of the Chief W. R. Richardson Tribal Government Complex, the Rev. C. H. Richardson Community Building, and especially the Haliwa-Saponi Tribal School.
How does your tribe deal with the United States as a sovereign nation?
We address issues of sovereignty through organizations that represent the interests and concerns of Native tribes and communities, for example by taking part in conferences and meetings such as the NCAI Conference.
What message would you like to share with the youth of your community?
I'd like our youth to know that, with education and hard work, there is no limit to what they can achieve.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Yes. I'd like to say that I am honored to be the first woman to serve as chief of the Haliwa–Saponi Indian Tribe.
Photographs courtesy of the Haliwa–Saponi Tribe; used with permission.
To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below.
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission.