Raeford and Lois Strickland, married 59 years, are lifelong members of the Coharie Tribe and residents of Sampson County, NC. They both hold instrumental positions within the tribe and are very active in preserving its day-to-day culture. For his various initiatives, Raeford Strickland was awarded Elder of the Year for the State of North Carolina in 2015. Likewise, Lois Strickland holds the title of Senior Princess of the Coharie Tribe. Given their involvement and long history living in Sampson County, the couple’s experience is invaluable in understanding the tribe’s culture, history, and relationship with the river. As the river has seen rapid changes in recent decades, and with the advent of the Great Coharie River Initiative to revitalize the watershed, this experience is especially eye-opening.
On Growing Up Coharie
Raeford: “Well, ever since I can remember, I’ve lived here. I mean, I never went no further off, it was just right here. And I really enjoyed that creek down there, that’s where I grew up as a young boy, I really enjoyed it and going, I took my family and my friends. Oh, we just had a great time down there fishing, and sometimes we’d cook the fish down there, I mean we’d just have a wonderful time. It was just like going to the beach down there today. I really enjoyed it…. When I was a little boy, and I’d, I tell you, I’d take ‘em [friends] at the dam when they’d say, we goin’ fishing, oh man, I had a little reed pole and a hook on the end. I’d get that thing and I was just three on the day, I was just, just… I really enjoyed it. And I enjoyed being in Sampson County, and I’ve raised my family and I was raised here and I raised all my family here and just all about my family lives round here.”
Lois: “it was a lot of fun! And that’s what it was all about. And I hope someday I’ll be able to go back and walk through and see the beautiful trees and animals and things that I have missed for a while. So, that’s just the way it is.”
On the River’s Significance in Family Life
Lois: “I always said ain’t no man that could carry me out of Sampson County, I had to be staying in Sampson County because it’s my home and my daddy’s home and his daddy’s home. We all right here together. … I just enjoy Sampson County, don’t care for me nowhere else and… I know this: other towns is good, but this is my home, and my land run right down to the creek, my daddy’s land”.
Lois: “I have 7 grandchildrens and three great-grandchildrens. I hope that’s right… 5 great-grandchildren. I’m sorry, I’m getting old. But anyway, they’re precious, and I mean they’re precious, and they mean a lot to me, and they’re in Sampson County, and I hope someday they’ll be able to go down the river and say, Grandma used to tell me about the birds and the fish and everything’s that they see as they go along in the leaves and the trees. There’s one of my grandsons, boy he’s into it, he’s a fisher if there’s ever been one, and looking for worms and leaves, different things that’s in the, out there, he’s looking for it, and he’ll set it down what he think it is, don’t he, he’ll ask… I hope that he can remember the things that I have told him about all the things that I have did.”
On the River Cleanup Project
Raeford: “I mean, we need our river. It serves a… it serves a lot of purposes. And I’m very proud of those youth and of Phillip and of everyone who’s going in on this water thing to clean it out. Because in a few years if it don’t be cleaned out, there won’t be no river. I mean, it’s just about no river now. It’ll just be gone. I mean, the rain it just go direct… You won’t be able to say a River, Coharie River. There ain’t gonna be one. So I’m just proud of you fellas, what you’re doing to preserve it so my grandchildren and this next generation enjoy it like we did when we was still young.”
Lois:“It’s meant a lot. I’m just so thankful that they started cleaning out and are going to redo it and for the young people to have something to do and to go down the river and that’s meant… that’s a lot to have in our community. And I see the young people and they look so happy and all and they… I mean, we can lead ‘em right on to the church and different things… It means a lot.”