Johnson presents film
on Occaneechi tribe


The first in a series of School of Communications teacher/scholar research presentations took place in March, when Ray Johnson shared a film he produced, directed and edited.

"Occaneechi: The Survival of the Circle" tells the story of a group of Native Americans who have lived in the region just north of Elon for hundreds of years.

At the time of the first Europeans' arrival in what is now the United States, the Occaneechi tribe's home was an island on the Roanoke River in Virginia, where they exercised control over trade throughout the region. When Nathaniel Bacon led a violent rebellion there in May of 1676, the Occaneechi people were scattered for a time. They settled near Hillsborough, N.C., then spent the next century moving between Virginia and North Carolina. In the early 1800s, they settled in an area of North Carolina that eventually became known as Pleasant Grove, in the northeast corner of Alamance County.

The Occaneechi now think of Pleasant Grove - sometimes called "Little Texas" - as their home. By the 1940s they had been assimilated on many levels and they didn't have much left of their culture. They are working today to reconstruct their tribal language, which was partly lost, and they are also buying back some of the land where their ancestors settled in North Carolina. A recently purchased 28-acre Alamance County site has been earmarked for the development of an Occaneechi history center.

It is estimated that between 600 and 1,000 Occaneechi remain today. The tribe was recognized as a distinct group by the State of North Carolina in 2001, after mounting a 10-year struggle for recognition.

Johnson said Occaneechi historian Forest Hazel and tribal chairman Tony Hayes were instrumental in his project. Hazel also co-wrote the documentary. He and/or Hayes accompanied Johnson and his crew as they gathered most of the interviews for the film. Johnson spent the many long months on the project, building the trust of the people of Pleasant Grove and doing background research.

The project took about 18 months from start to finish. Johnson finally had more than 20 hours of digital video, storing at least eight hours of video on his firewire drive. He edited the video on a laptop, using Final Cut Pro software. Production of the film was a team effort, involving the Occaneechi leaders and Elon students, faculty members and staff members.

Faculty member Gerald Gibson took digital photos of historic heirloom photographs of Occaneechi people that were incorporated in the film. Faculty member Don Grady, a Native American, narrates. Staff members J. McMerty and Bryan Baker worked on video and sound production. Students Erin Cooper, Jillian Baer, Scott Myrick and Jennifer Sposato played important roles during the production phases of the project.

Johnson said this 31-minute film is the first of three he will produce about the Occaneechi. "There is so much there to tell," he said "It's all about the circle of life."



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Last Modified:  3/22/04
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