After a year of requests, UNC Charlotte landed a performance from Unheard Voices in celebration of Native American Heritage Month in November.
This past week, the Native American student singing group from UNC Chapel Hill had a message for those at the concert: “We’re still here,” said member Earnest Dial, a Lumbee senior.
The nine-member a cappella group sang a variety of traditional songs in strings of vocables, often to the beat of a deerskin hand drum.
But the students wanted to share more than songs. They spoke of Native Americans’ current struggles with poverty, diabetes and alcoholism.
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They also wanted to let people know that Native Americans don’t walk around in moccasins beating drums with feathers in their hair.
“I want people to understand that Native Americans are as contemporary as other Americans that are in the nation,” said Unheard Voices director Candice Locklear, 21. “We do have our traditions, but those traditions are set and done at specific times.”
The student group helped show UNCC students the face of modern Native Americans, said Regena Brown, the assistant director of UNCC’s Multicultural Resource Center.
“It was wonderful. Their voices are so beautiful, and the way they were able to provide history from a student’s perspective just helped give a voice to contemporary college students,” Brown said. “(They) made it real for a lot of students, even though we have a Native American organization on campus.”
Unheard Voices member Katlin Roberts, who is 19 and of the Eastern Band Cherokee, said she hopes the group’s tour during Native American Heritage month helps to dispel stereotypes.
Roberts said her biggest pet peeve is when people dress up as Native Americans for Halloween.
“It perpetuates stereotypes about Native American people,” she said. “It sexualizes our culture, and Native Americans don’t look anything like that.”
Britnee Arch, 18, said she appreciated the performance. Arch is part of the Navajo and the Eastern Band Cherokee peoples, and she attends Queens University of Charlotte.
Arch grew up on the Cherokee reservation in western North Carolina and said moving to Charlotte was a culture shock.
“It’s hard,” she said, adding that everywhere she goes, she’s conscious that she is a rare minority.
While the nine Native Americans delivered song and spoken word with conviction, one voice in the tight-knit bunch truly went unheard.
Faith Hedgepeth, of the Haliwa Saponi tribe, was a 19-year-old student at UNC Chapel Hill who had been part of Unheard Voices.
She was found dead in her Chapel Hill apartment Sept. 7, and her death is still under investigation.
“She was a pretty integral part of our group, and we’re still coping with not having her with us,” Roberts said in a quiet voice. “It’s a process.”
Locklear, a member of the Lumbee tribe, said Hedgepeth’s death was difficult for the group.
“With us being Native American, we’ve always been a close-knit community,” she said. “It may have brought us closer together to remind each other that we’re there for each other if we’re ever having any troubles.”
Through their songs, Roberts said, she hopes non-Native Americans are encouraged to learn more about Native American culture and attend events.
“We’re usually completely accepting as a community,” she said.