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  • The unrecognized in South Carolina

    The unrecognized in South Carolina

    Posted: January 19, 2004 - 11:11am EST
    by: Jim Largo / Correspondent / Indian Country Today

    COLUMBIA, S.C. - The state of South Carolina has never officially recognized American Indian tribes within its borders but that may change within the year, some state Indian leaders expressed at a meeting in early January.

    "We go back 20 years, folks have been trying for state recognition for that long, and it has never happened yet," said Chief Harold Hatcher of the Waccamaw Indian People of Conway, S.C.

    "There is no state recognition in South Carolina. There was a gubernatorial proclamation that recognized about five groups at one time," Hatcher said. "My understanding is according to the research done earlier, when the governor left office, so did the recognition."

    Hatcher was responding to a question posed by Michael Rentiers, special assistant to Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C. Rentiers was at the meeting to gather information about South Carolina Indian tribes and to send that information to the federal Administration for Native Americans (ANA) to find funding for the non-federally recognized tribes and Indian groups in the state.

    Rentiers explained that the congressman was approached by Chief Dennis Bracy’s Beaver Creek Indians in an effort to get ANA funding.

    "The Beaver Creek band contacted Congressman Wilson’s office and he is now in gear trying to accumulate some information, so he can go back to Washington, D.C. and possibly find a resolution to what ANA is doing." Chief Hatcher explained.

    Rentiers said, "Recently it came to our attention that none of the South Carolina tribes are being funded. Part of what I do is we help entities, local governments, community organizations, charity organizations, get funding they need to help South Carolina be a better place."

    He continued, "Until just a few weeks ago, we were not aware of this problem. When it was brought to our attention, we have been out to find what the problem was, to see what we could do about it. We believe that this is a very important part of our communities. I am here to get to know, to listen, because you guys know much more that we do about what’s going on. We are just now getting involved. So we are here to try and help."

    Chief Hatcher explained that there are questions about ANA’s apparent change in granting funds. "It appears that non-federal Indians are not going to be funded especially in this area," Hatcher said.

    Rentiers then asked the leaders of the 10 different groups represented at the meeting if the South Carolina tribes can be federally recognized and what it took to become a federally recognized tribe. The groups make up the South Carolina Indian Affairs Commission (SCIAC). A group has to be in existence for three years before joining the commission.

    Hatcher said there were seven different ways and three were major issues. He explained, "One is you are able to prove an unbroken line of tribal control from the first white contact until the present day." It meant that tribes had to show existing government from the 1600s to the present, Hatcher explained. "In my area, it happened about 1751. Indians at that time didn’t maintain any written documents about who was the chief. That’s almost impossible thing for us to do."

    Another criterion, he said, was, "You have to show an unbroken genealogical tie to a known Indian entity at first contact." That would require going through the records, if any, to when Christopher Columbus arrived on the continent.

    "How do you go by genealogical ties - birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates and all that - when they didn’t exist," Hatcher asked.

    A third criterion he mentioned was that a tribe could bring a lawsuit against the state to prove that it continually existed in the area to now. That is what the Catawba Indians did, Hatcher explained. Catawba Indians of Rock Hill, S.C. are now the only federally recognized tribe in South Carolina.

    The other four ways of becoming a federally recognized tribe were not discussed.

    South Carolina State archeologist Jonathan M. Leader said he was surprised when he first came to the state to learn that South Carolina tribes were not recognized by the federal government or the state.

    He said, "It came as a total shock to me when I realized that Native American, First Americans, American Indians here were not recognized either by the federal government or the State of South Carolina. I didn’t expect that."

    He felt that some of it maybe because the eastern Indians were too friendly with the early Europeans. Indians in the West were warlike and the federal government drew up treaties with them. He said eastern tribes, including those in South Carolina, fought on the side of United States even before the Revolutionary War.

    "So now we have a distinction between friendly and hostile groups. Pocahontas’ group was friendly. Now they are not federal recognized," he said.

    Leader also explained that current federal budget does not allow funding for newly recognized tribes. "If you are in a position to lay claims to the funds, it’s harder for the bureaucracy that’s dealing with it to include additional people. ANA has the inability to depoliticize a funding situation that makes it impossible to address the situation as it is today.

    "People in South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Virginia, and on up to Maine are taking steps so they can get recognition for the fact that they have been in the communities for those periods of time, but who are unable to do so because the funding has been pulled out from under them or there are no additional funding to pick up the slack," he said.

    Chief Hatcher explained the commission recently gathered information for a state Indian affairs office that the South Carolina Indian groups can use. "There is no state recognition in South Carolina. There would not be until this criteria that we just worked on in the ad hoc committee is made into law, hopefully, sometime in the next few months.

    "I think we are on the verge of actually having state recognition criteria. We’ll get the criteria in place, and then each group who intends to be recognized has to submit its documentation. So we are looking at, at least, another year before we see the first state tribe in South Carolina.

    "Gov. (Mark) Sanford told me personally, he said, ‘I won’t assist you in getting this bill through, but I won’t oppose it,’" Hatcher said.

    Leader added by saying, "It is important to be recognized. The recognition by the State of South Carolina is very important. It does not have anything to do with land claims or does not have anything to do with gambling. They are totally separate issues.

    "It does have to do with suppression of dignity and ability to go after non-BIA federal funds. My office, we are fully behind putting together a process for state recognition," he said.

    Rentiers asked if the commission was an official state governing body. Leader answered by saying members of the commission represented most of the Indians in the state.

    "What you have here is an assembly of entities, tribes, groups, that have chosen to come together as non-governmental group to advance the needs of the groups of the state. They do not speak for all, but they speak for the majority of the state," he said.

    Chief Gene Norris, who is chairman of the commission, explained that the commission would draft a letter, speaking for the South Carolina Indians, to give to Rentiers, who asked for such a letter to give to Congressman Joe Wilson.

    Norris, chief of the Lower Cherokee Nation of South Carolina in Simpsonville, S.C., has been trying for state recognition since 1982. The Indians have come a long way, he said, since the early days when the state dealt only with blacks or whites.

    "We have made a lot of changes in the state," he said. "Now if we fill out an application, we’re allowed to put on there if we are Indian - Cherokee or whatever - on the paper. You couldn’t do that 20 years ago. The commission has done a lot of work to see this happen."
    This article can be found at
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  • #2
    FYI, the so called South Carolina Indian Affairs Commission is not a state endorsed body. They are just a non-profit group formed by some people.

    South Carolina has no official body that handles Indian Affairs.
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    • #3
      He felt that some of it maybe because the eastern Indians were too friendly with the early Europeans. Indians in the West were warlike and the federal government drew up treaties with them. He said eastern tribes, including those in South Carolina, fought on the side of United States even before the Revolutionary War.

      That is a very uneducated statement. Many treaties were drawn up before and after the revolutionary war on the east side. We were'nt necessarily friendlier than those in the west either.. we just were some of the first contact at that time. You have to think ..if you see a mob headed your way, destroying everything in it's path... how are you going to react? Not to mention those on the plains and west coast and south had already had spanish contact before the americans and the spaniards had tried to conquer already.
      And his comment about pocahontas's people were friendly...
      That's like saying the only unfriendly tribe in North Carolina ended up being the Cherokee.
      Last edited by Blackbear; 01-21-2004, 03:32 PM.
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