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On January 20, 2023, the American Indian Center held a Healthy Native North Carolinians (HNNC) Network gathering at the North Carolina Botanical Garden! The event served as an opportunity to learn about how to best support individual health and overall community health. The Healthy Native North Carolinians Network aims to support the health and wellness of Native peoples and tribes, connecting tribal leaders and community-based Native leaders from around North Carolina to help achieve these goals. The workshops and discussions that took place during the event encouraged community members to stay mindful of their own health and wellbeing, while fostering wellness in our communities.

This was AIC’s first Healthy Native North Carolinians in-person meeting since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The keynote session, “Managing Overwhelm”, featured speakers Alicia Freeman (Waccamaw Siouan, UNC School of Social Work) and Tonia Deese Jacobs (Waccamaw Siouan, UNC School of Social Work), as well as insights from Jesalyn Keziah (Lumbee, American Indian Center). The focus of their presentation involved working towards wellness through cultural and traditional ways of knowing, specifically, the Medicine Wheel, which is used by many Native communities to maintain balance and wellbeing. Stories, laughs, and memories were all a part of this discussion. Participants shared insights on basket-weaving, beading, and visiting plant and nature relatives as ways to heal and manage emotions. This portion of the event focused on interactive participation with attendees performing deep breathing exercises, conversing with others on their own wellness journeys, and reflecting on ways to reach balanced wellbeing.

The next portion of the meeting featured Millard Locklear (Lumbee), Manager of the newly created Lumbee Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, which aims to tackle important aspects of wellness: food and natural environmental resources. The department’s goal is to promote tribal food sovereignty and advocate for the Lumbee farming community in the spirit of honoring Lumbee lands, waters, ancestors, and traditions, as well as to promote natural resources stewardship efforts. Millard Locklear shared lessons from this program’s growth and new pathways for achieving wellness which are not only personal, but community driven and rooted.

The last segment focused on brainstorming ideas for the future of the Healthy Native North Carolinians Network, responsive to community’s interest and current needs – a conversation facilitated by AIC’s HNNC facilitator, Jesalyn Keziah. This portion of the meeting reflected on the ten-year history of the HNNC. In a world that has changed and shifted over time, this discussion was geared towards learning how the HNNC can also transform to meet current community needs. Attendees offered ideas of new ways that the HNNC can foster community such as plant walks with elders, workshops to learn farming skills, and visits to different communities to personally engage with their projects and initiatives.

The Healthy Native North Carolinians initiative is a strong foundation for supporting community initiatives, work, and projects. HNNC is generously supported by Blue Cross Blue Shield Healthy Blue. With attendees representing the tribes that share geography with North Carolina, as well as across Turtle Island, this gathering was a vibrant and diverse experience. The American Indian Center is proud to be the host of these meetings and the host of other community initiatives, and  grateful to all who support us. For those of you who were not able to make it, we encourage you to visit our website for more information and hope you are able to attend a future gathering with us!

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