A native of Sampson County, Jacobs has lived there almost his entire life and seen many things change, none more so than the river. As a tribal administrator for the Coharie Tribe, however, Jacobs’ life can be anything but peaceful. He serves as the primary communicator between the tribal administration and the native community, a resource for community members in need and spearheads the Great Coharie River Initiative, a project led by Jacobs and other tribal leaders to restore the Great Coharie River to its former state. Although it’s apparent Jacobs wears many hats, there is perhaps none he enjoys wearing more than that of being a Grandfather for his eighteen-year-old granddaughter.
On Growing Up Coharie
“There was some historic trauma that I was subject to as a young native American child growing up so there was some difference. I guess what I’m saying is that opportunity was not as open was not as great for me as it was for the dominant society which led to some scarring, emotions that we carry today and we’re trying to solve through programs we implement here at the center or we’re trying to address. So I had to live a little more isolated life a little less opportunity education-wise financial well- being was not as great we had to live on what a farm could produce. You didn’t see us in the government offices employed or you didn’t see doctors or lawyers who had their degree and were financially fluid and able to take care of their families. However, we were happy as we were because if you never know then you don’t know what you’re doing without. But I had loving neighbors, I had loving parents, I had a loving church, I had a loving school, I had a beautiful river that was my recreation area. And I was healthy and I was happy so that’s what I meant when I said that’s the difference between the dominant society which I was raised. We might have been poor but we didn’t know it and we lived just as well as any other man on Earth and depending on what weigh scale you used we lived just as well as any other man on Earth one day at a time.”
On the River
“…When we started the Great Coharie River Initiative what I’ve come to live and realize is that there’s a spirit in that river, the spirit of my ancestors and it has been awakened in this tribe. I’m seeing a tribe being more ambitious. I’m seeing them being more emotional. I’m seeing them proud of a way of life in the past that got them to this point. Today. And there’s a special tie I’ve noticed in our people to the water. Baptism came easy to us as we were converted by the missionaries because there’s somethings special about the water. There’s life in the water. I’ve seen that river breathe life into all those that go down it today. I’ve seen young men who’ve had destructive behavior all of a sudden work to honorable, an example for the younger generation that’s watching them. I’ve seen drug abuse lessened. I’ve seen veterans come back home and to relieve the mental stress of war go down that river to find their peace. I’ll tell you a little story about a young man in our community who had been to prison. His family had been through a lot of trauma, enough trauma that it led to his father’s death. And I saw him in the winter time, him and some of his friends going down the river when it was awfully cold and I said to him “Young man, I saw you going down in the river the other day and it was mighty cold. Have you found gold in that river?” This young man wouldn’t even talk to you a year ago. He would just look down at his feet, quiet isolated. He didn’t want you to know what he was doing. And he threw his head back, looked at me and smiled. He looked me right in the eyes and said “Mr. Greg,” he said “I found myself.” So I’ve found the river as it was to me today. When I went down that river I could see my ancestors walking the banks and fishing. I could feel my healing myself, as if I had taken medicine. So there’s medicine, there’s a mystery in that river, a medicine that has been brought back to life for a healing of the people of the Coharie Tribe. This tribe is stronger today since we’ve started the Great Coharie Initiative a year or so ago. There’s much more participation in tribal programs. There’s much more unity. There’s much more love. So that river’s medicine.”
“and I can remember the huge cypress trees and the oak trees and the pine trees…how they would swallow you up it was almost like an umbrella that you were walking into. And I remember setting up beside some of the cypress trees by the river with my pole, fishing, and sometimes I would go asleep for hours, just lean back just me and the river and the trees and the fresh air and the sounds of the birds and I remember enjoying that. However, in comparison now I feel good that the Coharie tribe is taking stewardship of the river, making it back healthy again. That canopy that I used to walk under is gone. Those paths that I used to walk down is gone. Previous storms and the lack of the river being taken care of has destroyed a lot of the trees. Have destroyed the banks. The beaver infestation where they haven’t been controlled has led to major problems. So the story that I’m telling is a story of beauty and a story of disappointment in the way the river has become.”
On the Cultural Resurgence of the Coharie
“That spirit we started with a drum. Our culture went underground when it was not to our advantage to display it. Our language. Our drumming. Our dancing. Our regalia, the clothes that we wore. And now it’s coming back. We’re reaching out and pulling it out from under the table. And we’re expressing ourselves in a native way. And we are, those that want to, are speaking in a native tongue. All of us are dancing. And drumming. And singing. And there’s a spirit that radiates out from that drum into all of our community members. It radiates all down in that river that same spirit. So we’re revisiting the past to take us into a strong future. …I’m realizing how our cultural way…the strength that was in our cultural way and the revival of our culture is adding strength into our individuals today. So it’s a wonderful thing, having to see that and much more to be a part of helping our cultural ways to be strong so that’s who we are. We are river people. And to bring that back into the equation is helping the circle to be completed.”