Born and raised in Sampson County, North Carolina, Brad has grown up as a member of the Coharie Tribe. He discusses his life in connection to the tribal community and how growing up Coharie affected his ability to live harmoniously with the people and the land surrounding him. As is the case with many Coharie people, Brad feels a strong connection to the Coharie River and an urgency to restore and maintain it to be used and enjoyed by future generations. Brad’s main objective as a Coharie Indian is to pass on his knowledge to the children of the tribe, whether it be through his musical abilities as leader of the drum circle, his desire to find and speak the native language, his respect and honor for the tribal culture, or his passion for protecting the Coharie River, which he describes as a “heartbeat to [the] tribe.”
On Growing Up Coharie
Brad grew up in Sampson County, just a mile away from the Coharie Tribal Center. He recounts taking fishing trips to the Coharie River nearly every Saturday growing up, where he learned valuable lessons from his father and his uncle about fishing and living off the land.
“Just, it’s kind of a relaxing thing, you know, it takes the stress off of you. But back then it was to survive. That’s how everybody learned how to fish—their granddaddies taught them, ‘this is how you eat, son. This is how you survive, this is how you feed your family.’ But now, we don’t have to do that now.”
“I fish just as much as I can. It’s just something in me, you know, that’s how me and my daddy bonded. He, I mean he don’t go with me a lot but still, he taught me how to fish and that’s why I do it.”
“You only take what you need from the land, you don’t take no more. And that’s what he taught me. That’s what my uncle taught me.”
On Being Coharie
As leader of the local drum circle, Brad splits his time between traveling around the state to perform at pow wows and competitions, raising his children, and seeking knowledge about the culture of his community—including a never-ending search for any remaining speakers of the tribal language. Being Coharie is a tangible source of pride for Brad.
“It’s a wonderful body of people. They’re loving, they don’t, you know, exclude people just because of the color of their skin, because of their race, their ethnic… none of that. It’s just they bring whoever in. If you come in, you feel like you’re home, don’t you?”
“…most of the songs we sing are for our community and our people. It’s like, a song that’s a prayer for your people. When you’re dancing, your footsteps are a prayer for your people.”
“You know, but around here the closest language, that’s what we’re learning now, just so we can—cause a native ear needs that language. I don’t know if you understand what I mean, but you can be in a crowd of people, a crowd of Native American people, and they’ll be talking and yapping and talking and yapping and someone starts speaking the language, and you could hear a pin drop. Because that ear needs that language.”
On the River
“Our people—that was our people’s highway, that was our people’s road, that’s the way they traveled from point to point. Cause, you know, you can take that river from here to about anywhere on the east coast, you know, and get out and walk to wherever you had to go. Um, that’s why there’s a big link, that’s what the link is, you know, that’s how our people traveled, that’s how they actually got here because we, we actually came from Camden County, New Bern, up that area on the river up there, that’s the same river. And for us, when we get out there, it’s peaceful because it’s where our family came from, you know? I mean it’s people that we don’t know, but that’s where we derived from. We know they were there. We can feel their presence or stuff like that.”
“And that’s a big part of our culture, that river is. A big part, like the main part of our culture. That’s how they lived, that’s how they rode, that’s how they traveled, that’s how everything.”
“I used to go down there and catch buckets of fish. And now, you have to ride way up in there to get to that, you know what I’m saying? And we used to could just walk to it anywhere, and you’d catch anything anywhere, but now it’s kind of, they’re limited because they’re trapped up, and that’s what we’re trying to get rid of. We’re trying to free the fish, and you know, stuff like that.”
“That River is like a heartbeat to this tribe, this community. This community was torn apart for a little while, okay? It ain’t always been what you see here today. It was just a community, no more. People weren’t worried about being Native American, people weren’t worried about…they weren’t worried about this… and that’s easy to do, because we had to walk in two worlds. You had to walk in society, you with your job, your career, stuff like that, but then you also had to keep—I mean, you don’t have to, but we need to—keep our culture alive, you know what I’m saying? Because it can easily fade. And that’s my thing.”
On the Future
For Brad, the future of the Coharie Tribe lies in the hands of the children, and his main focus is raising and teaching the younger generation to instill the tribal values in them that are so essential to the preservation of Coharie culture.
“I’d like to see [the river] completely clean now, for one thing. To function the way it was built to function, you know. There’s a purpose for everything, and that river served a purpose but it can’t serve its purpose. I’d love to see it be a, not a tourist attraction per se, but people just come to Clinton just to see it, about like y’all. You know what I’m saying, stuff like that. You know, just stop in and look at it. Just be amazed by it.”
“I take care of my elders and I take care of my senior citizens, but my focus is children. Because that’s the next generation, that’s who’s gonna take care of me. And you got to raise your leaders. You know, you can’t—you let kids play all day, but if you watch a pack of kids play, there’s gonna be one little kid that, they gonna follow that child. And you take that child, and you raise him the way he needs to be to lead the tribe. “
“And if I just do it, when I’m dead and gone or my generation’s dead and gone, who’s gonna do it? If I don’t tech these kids, who’s gonna do it? There ain’t nobody to do it. After my generation’s dead and gone, they won’t be here anymore. So I gotta teach them, let them—or teach them what I know. I can’t teach them everything because I don’t know everything, but I’ll teach them what I know.”