Nature provided the sanctuary.
A wedding ceremony in this community just north of Mebane brought together a man and a woman whose culture might be considered hidden in plain sight. It's a culture that is older than our nation. It's a culture that seeks harmony and balance. It's a culture that values nature.
Crystal Red Bear Cavalier and Jason Crazy Bear Keck were married in a traditional Native American ceremony June 9. The ceremony occurred on land that has been in her family for generations. It was a connection they wanted.
"This is my family's land," Cavalier said. "It's been in our family for over 200 years. We're near the tribal grounds. We're connected to this place."
Cavalier is a member of Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation. Her home is about a mile away from the tribal grounds in Alamance County.
The Occaneechi Band, which has f about 2,000 members, traces its origins to an area that now is the northeastern corner of North Carolina and the southeastern corner of Virginia before the arrival of European settlers. The Saponi migrated inland with some bands traveling farther west. The Occaneechi landed between the Haw and Eno rivers in what now is Orange and Alamance counties. Nearby in Hillsborough is Occoneechee Mountain, which contains the highest point in Orange County.
Four days before the wedding, Cavalier and Keck each started a fast to cleanse their bodies. It also was a time to collect sacramental items for the ceremony.
Keck traveled to Wilmington to collect some ocean water. He also needed to gather some river reeds. Cavalier retrieved water, but hers came from the Haw River. She also found sage and cedar needed for the rites.
The day before the ceremony, Keck prepared the site for the wedding. He laid out a square with the corners pointing in the four cardinal directions. He encircled the posts marking the corners with corn meal and flour to make a "House." He set up a drum circle in the middle of the square from where the ceremonial heartbeat would emanate during the ceremony.
On the eve of the wedding, they each concluded their cleansings. Keck and the men endured a "sweat ceremony." They went through four rounds of the religious rite seeking penance and purification. Cavalier and the women went to the Haw River for their ritual.
The Wedding Day
The couple blended rituals from Occaneechi Saponi, Cherokee, Choctaw and Lakota traditions to make their ceremony.
A fire ceremony drew from Keck's Choctaw roots and Lakota upbringing. A blanket ceremony and a water ritual came from Cavalier's Occaneechi Saponi heritage. And they received a Cherokee blessing.
It all began at sunrise for Keck, who offered prayers and chants to the Great Spirit. Cavalier donned her white buckskin dress and long moccasins. She then waited until the time to start. There was no scheduled time. It started when the Great Spirit moved them, shortly after 9:30 a.m.
The men, led by Keck, marched in to the beat of the drum they carried. When they got to the circle and placed the drum in its frame, Keck offered more prayers and song. When he concluded, Cavalier led the women to the the ceremonial area.
The joint part of the ceremony began and there were four stops. They visited each "House" and performed rituals to bind them together.
The first was a Fire Ceremony. Keck and Cavalier entered the eastern "House" where they started a fire that merged into a bonfire in the center of a rock circle. Keck then led his bride through seven pledges.
The Blanket Ceremony was next. It started with them each being draped in a native blanket. Their families then exchanged dowries. Her family offered a basket with ears of corn, beans and squash, known as "The Three Sisters" in Native American culture. His offering to her family was a batch of meat jerky. They entered the House and then traded their individual blankets for a larger one that wrapped them together.
Next they received a Cherokee blessing in the westernmost House. J.D. Arch, who also was attending the Occaneechi Powwow later in the day as honored guest from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation, bestowed a traditional blessing from his tribe. He concluded it with a spine-tingling warrior call he repeated seven times that echoed across the newly planted fields surrounding the ceremonial area. They shared a drink of water from a small clay pitcher before Keck slammed it down on the ground to complete the ritual.
Their final rite from the Saponi was a water ceremony in the northern House. Keck poured his seawater over their hands, then Cavalier repeated it with the water from the river. An Occaneechi elder leading the ritual then tied their hands together with strings of river mussels and offered another song prayer. When the prayer ended, they planted their river reeds in the ground to complete their traditional union.
Sharing their culture
Cavalier and Keck believe strongly in cultural outreach. They met a little more than a year ago during the annual Occaneechi Powwow.
He was there as a visitor, having moved to North Carolina three years ago. She was selling beaded crafts. Their professional pursuits, she as a computer security expert for Corning and he as a retail specialist for Lowe's, provides them with the resources needed to share their cultures.
They teach culture classes monthly at the county libraries in Orange, Alamance and Caswell counties. She teaches crafts like beading and he focuses on music and dance.
"It isn't strictly for the Native People," Keck said. "But we do want to teach the Native People because we realize the need to bring some of those teachings back. If we weren't doing this together, we'd be doing it separately. That's how much we believe in what we're doing.
During the summer, she also runs camps for children to learn about the Occaneechi. He spreads the traditions he learned from the Lakota while living in California. They'll continue their outreach efforts while settling into their new routine as husband and wife.