John White's drawings of an American Indian village on Roanoke

Celebrating American Indian Heritage Month

American Indian Heritage Month is a time to honor and celebrate the history and heritage of the American Indian people in North Carolina. American Indians have lived in the geographic area of North Carolina for more than 12,000 years and have greatly impacted our state and nation. The coastal Algonquin Indian communities along the Outer Banks inhabited the area long before the first English explorers arrived in 1584. Their ingenuity, resourcefulness, and customs have significantly influenced our culture, especially on the Outer Banks.

Influence on Coastal North Carolina Culture

Fishing & Boat Building

The watermen lifestyle that the Outer Banks is now known for began with the coastal Algonquins. The Algonquin communities were the first to tap into the Outer Banks bountiful natural resources. The original design of their fishing weirs and nets are still used by fishermen today. Boat building in North Carolina is another industry that began with the Algonquins. They would build canoes out of hollowed out trees known as dugout canoes. The top of the tree was burned and the charred portion was scrapped away with oyster shells to form the interior. These canoes were designed to easily navigate the surrounding shallow waters.

John White watercolor image of American Indians fishing John White watercolor image of American Indians fishing

John White's illustration of American Indian fishing


Farming is another vital industry in North Carolina that can be tracked back to the American Indians. Corn, beans, and squash, also known as the three sisters, are just a few of the crops these communities discovered that are still staples in our farming economy and diet. Companion planting is another farming technique that originated from the American Indians. They discovered that when planted together - corn, beans, and squash help each other grow. 

Historical Impact

The survival of future settlers in America would not have been possible without the insight of Manteo, a member of the Croatan tribe, and Wanchese, member of the Roanoke tribe. Manteo, particularly, was a diplomatic leader who served as a mediator between the local communities and the English explorers. With Manteo’s assistance, artist, John White, and linguist and scientist, Thomas Harriet, were able to observe and record the customs and culture of the Southeastern Algonquins. Manteo was able to help the explorers avoid conflict and provide them with valuable information that was key to their survival and the success of future settlements.  

Ways to Celebrate

Governor Roy Cooper has proclaimed November 2020 as American Indian Heritage Month. Learn more about other indigenous communities in North Carolina and ways you can honor them this month and throughout the year in Governor Cooper’s proclamation. You can also dive into American Indian history by exploring American Indian Town at Roanoke Island Festival Park. Inspired by John White's illustrations, American Indian Town allows guests to get a glimpse into the daily lives, customs, and traditions of the coastal Algonquins in the 16th century. 

American Indian Heritage Month proclamation 2020

North Carolina American Indian Heritage Month proclamation