Carolina Indian Circle dedicates powwow to slain student

Mar. 23, 2013 @ 07:06 PM

Late UNC student Faith Danielle Hedgepeth was remembered lovingly by friends, family and fellow Native Americans on Saturday at the university’s 26th Annual Carolina Indian Circle Powwow in Chapel Hill.

Family members wore white T-shirts with angel wings printed on the back and the words “Just Have Faith: In Loving Memory.”

Hedgepeth, 19, a junior from Hollister, was found dead in her off-campus apartment Sept. 7, 2012. Her homicide is still unsolved. Hedgepeth was part of the Haliwa-Saponi tribe of Native Americans.

Hedgepeth’s nieces, Alexis and Paige Evans, 19 and 16, respectively, came from Hollister for the powwow. Alexis Evans said they came to support their aunt along with a lot of other relatives. They want to keep people aware of the unsolved murder and that they still want answers, she said.

Paige Evans said her aunt was happy all the time.

Friend Brittany Hammonds was Hedgepeth’s counselor during a summer program in 2010, when Hedgepeth was an incoming freshman. Hammonds described her friend as bright, bubbly, never meeting a stranger and always with a smile.

“She took time to ask about other people,” Hammonds said. “Her life was too short.”

Hammonds is part of the Carolina Indian Circle at UNC, which Hedgepeth also joined. Hammonds said she’s glad the circle dedicated Saturday’s powwow to Hedgepeth because she was one of them, and the number of Native Americans on campus is so small, with about 30 in the CIC.

“We don’t want her memory to fade away,” Hammonds said. “Her case is still unsolved.”

The powwow, held in Fetzer Gym, began with a blessing, and then performances by Native American drum and singing circles as dancers prepared for the grand entry ceremony. Dozens of dancers in traditional Native American dress, from small children to adults, circled the room during the entry, wearing colorful attire, feathers and bells.

Military veterans were recognized, as well as Hedgepeth’s family and friends. Marcus Collins, UNC assistant dean of academic counseling, spoke to the crowd and Hedgepeth’s gathered family. He knew her, too.

“We want to take a minute and reflect on what our dear Faith means to us,” Collins said. In her short time, she made a huge impact at UNC, he said. In the aftermath of her death, the UNC American Indian Center offered support, and UNC students, faculty and staff sent testimonials about Hedgepeth, he said. Collins gathered the letters in a box he presented to her family, and said he hopes in some small way the messages will bring comfort.

“It truly is a testimony of what your baby is and continues to be,” Collins said.

As Hedgepeth’s family and friends circled around the center of the room, other Native American dancers in attendance came to offer hugs, handshakes and support to Hedgepeth’s loved ones.

The head male dancer for the event was Jesse Richardson of Hollister. A member of the Stoney Creek drum and singing group, he had not danced in 17 years.

“Faith was my first cousin. I pretty much watched her grow up. She babysat for me. I dropped her off at campus when she first came here,” Richardson said.

He was asked to be head dancer as a member of Hedgepeth’s family. He began working on his Haliwa-Saponi outfit in January and finished it the night before the powwow.

“I do it for her,” he said. Richardson said the Carolina Indian Circle members have always been real supporters – holding fundraisers and bring awareness about his cousin’s death.

“We’ve just all been thankful to them,” he said.

Anyone with information about Hedgepeth’s homicide should call the Chapel Hill Police Department tip line at 919-614-6363 or Crimestoppers at 919-942-7515.