Arlene Melton Brown passes
Meherrin aided tribe's state recognition efforts
WINTON, N.C. - Arlene Melton Brown's life gives proof to the old saying that one person can make a difference.
Brown, a Meherrin Indian and chief woman of the Snipe Clan, stood before members of the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs in 1986, providing the history of the tribe and its struggle to survive.
Her testimony and research impressed the commission in such a way that it voted to grant the Meherrin Indian Tribe state recognition.
Described as a strong, traditional Iroquois woman and vocal clan mother, Brown, 81, died Sept. 4.
''My mother's death was totally unexpected,'' said Wayne Brown, former Meherrin chief and chief of the Snipe Clan. ''Her death has inspired me to search my own soul.''
Arlene Brown's legacy with the Meherrins could have been foretold. After all, she descended from Sallie M. Lewis, whose life also demonstrates one person's impact on others.
As told to Arlene Brown as a child and later to her own children, Lewis's escape from an attack on the Meherrin Indian Tribe's reservation essentially saved the tribe.
In 1838, Meherrin elders took Lewis, then a small child, leaving her miles away from the reservation to protect her from harm as an assault against the Meherrins ensued, Wayne Brown said.
With Lewis's survival, a large extended family along with other Meherrin survivors continued to thrive in their North Carolina community. The tribe now has land not far from its original reservation, although how it lost its reservation is unclear since the county courthouse was burned during the Civil War, Wayne Brown said.
Despite the attack and many losses, the Meherrins survived.
Patrick Suarez, Arlene Brown's grandson, said his grandmother helped raise him. He plans to start a memorial scholarship for American Indian students in honor of both his grandmother and grandfather.
''Right now, it's unbelievable not to see her,'' Suarez said. ''My grandmother had a love for cooking, and it feels odd to ride by her house on the way home from work and know she's not there. I keep feeling like she's there. I feel like there's a hole in me; I feel empty.''
In honor of his grandmother and grandfather, Raymond Suarez wrote a poem about the two, describing the feelings he had visiting his grandmother.
''Not only was my grandmother a rock, she laid the foundation for a mansion, her family,'' Raymond Suarez wrote.
He said his grandmother was a leader and taught him that if a person was hardworking and disciplined, he or she could become anything.
''My grandmother was proud of all the abilities God gave her, and she was the type of person who could do a lot with a little,'' Raymond Suarez said.
State and local government officials attended her funeral and sent letters to the tribe, expressing their sympathy.
North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley and his wife, Mary, sent a letter, which was read at the funeral by state Rep. Annie Mobley.
''I was very saddened to hear about Mrs. Brown's death,'' Gov. Easley wrote. ''I extend my sincerest condolences to your family. . . It is our prayer that you will find peace in the knowledge that so many share your sorrow.''
Also, state Sen. Ed Jones attended the funeral.
''When Governor Easley's letter was read, his letter gave the right words, and it gave us a sense of pride,'' Wayne Brown said. ''The governor's letter took away all that sadness I was feeling at the moment. I felt Momma stood for something, and it helped me to look into my heart and hear my mom's voice.''
Brunwick County, Va., officials sent a letter expressing sympathy for Arlene Brown's passing, according to her son. County officials met Arlene Brown and the Meherrins during a rededication of the historic Fort Christianna in Brunswick County, which housed various Indian tribes during the Colonial Virginia era.
During Arlene Brown's funeral, Daphney and Mike Dunn sang a prayer in the Tuscarora language to honor her. Paige Archer, Meherrin, read the Great Law of Peace, and Archer brought a turtle bag given by Chief Ken Adams of the Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe of King William County, Va.
Arlene Brown was the daughter of Clinton and Nollie Melton. She was predeceased by her husband, Joseph M. Brown.
She is survived by three sisters, Manie Mercado Franklin of Newport News, Va., Dorothy Wilson of Norfolk, Va., and Yvonne Baker of Hampton, Va.; three brothers, Clinton Melton of Georgia and Eugene Melton and Wayne Melton, both of Ahoskie, N.C.; seven sons, Joseph Brown, Wayne Brown, Donald Brown, Kelly Brown, Arnold Brown, Marcus Brown and Patrick Brown; six daughters, Kitty Woldman, Patrina Suarez, Patricia Reynolds, Sharon Skala, Sylvia Caudill and Denise Mcauly; and a number of grandchildren, great-grandchildren and other relatives.
Brown was buried in the Brown Cemetery in Winton, N.C.