Roszella Strickland is a senior Coharie tribe member who has lived in Sampson County, NC all her life. In her interview, she shares several anecdotes about the river, including observations on the biodiversity of the area in the past. She remembers the river fondly, and has memories of being there with her friends as a child, and later in life with her oldest brother Roscoe, with whom she did everything. She is acutely aware that nothing lasts forever and that “time changes everything” but is nonetheless disappointed in the fading way of life she and her Coharie peers shared in the past. She notices the same vices in the young generations of Coharie that mainstream America does in the youngest generation, namely cellphone addictions and boredom as a default feeling. Roszella maintains hope for the future, and thinks that time and effort dedicated to a restoration process can help the river become a sanctuary in the same way she remembers it.
On Growing Up Coharie
“…I remember we stayed up there at the old place, I called at the old place because that was where George Maclean lived. That’s where they lived, you know, old and I was just a little girl. And the water they called it mineral water you had to pump and we had a pump, but you could smell it you know? It would turn your water bucket and your dipper yellow-orange, you know, but now we don’t have that, I mean, when we be at where we are now we got on a different stream of water it seemed like and so it’s not the same. I’m glad I’m glad though, you know.
“It’s so much different, so much different. Men would break, I mean 20 acres of land, you know they would tend that much or more. And they would break that land and all day plow that mule plow. But you’d hear them coming up whistling and singing, you know what I mean? I remember that. And, but now, if you hear anybody whistling or singing, you’d think they lost their mind or something, you know what I mean? It’s just a different day, I’m telling you this. But as I tell them, I don’t know if it’s for the good really.”
On Being Coharie
“I don’t know, I don’t know, but like I said everything’s different, you know? It is, because I know like our neighbors you know, they would take their cows every morning and put them on a mule and buggy and take them down there in the woods down there and they’d stay down there all day. And in the afternoon they’d go back down there and bring them out behind the buggy, mule and buggy, you know? I think about that and say, you know, a lot of kids, they never remember nothing like that, I said ‘but I do, and I’ll never forget it! I hope I don’t anyway.’ I mean it’s good memories.”
“I remember one particular time, a snake fell down out of one of the apple trees…I guess we didn’t have, we didn’t, you know, we weren’t scared like we are, I mean like I am now, my nerves wouldn’t let me do things like that now. And I remember this particular time, like I said there’d be about eight couples would go down at 12 o’clock, they go down there fishing and doing you know whatever, and come out and go back to the field and work and they’d leave the fish and do it later. But this, I remember my mother, she said she walked a log across the water you know, and she said, ‘ if I’d have fell off of that log, could you swim and save me? And my daddy said ‘Pearl I’ma tell you the truth,’ he said ‘I honestly don’t think I could have.’ And so my momma says ‘well thank you but I’ll never do that again.’ I won’t ever forget that.”
On The River
“While like I said, I mean, back then I didn’t know nothing about nothing but just, everybody was welcome to go down there, that’s where we’d go, that was like, you know, we’d go down there, we go swimming, we’d go fishing, whatever, I mean just enjoyed it.”
“Like I said we would go down there, there be a place that wasn’t quite as big as this room, and (laughs) my brother, Roscoe, he’d take a hoe and get in there, you know like if, well it was like I said if there was a snake in there, we’d run the snake on out, you know? And he’d get in there and he would take that hoe and the fish would come up to the top of course. And we had these little water things, you know, kind of, we made them like wiry, out of wire, and you could dip down and get the fish up. You know, we’d get it all stirred up you know the fish would come up to the top of course. And that’s the way we got our fish all the time. Yeah, I think about that nobody never do that anymore, you know.”
On the Future
Roszella often leaned on her lack of knowledge on the present condition of the river, and therefore spoke in more general terms about the future of the river and the Coharie people. Her “time changes everything” and “things are just different” mantras definitely reflect the dissatisfaction in how modern ways of life have ignored the river in ways previous generations hadn’t. When I asked her about the younger generation having enough enthusiasm to help positively impact the river, she replied, “Yep. For better because you know, time changes everything you know.”