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vance hawkins
02-20-2005, 04:45 PM
article dated 2/18/05

http://www.thestate.com/mld/thestate/news/local/10930603.htm

Native Americans claim birthright

S.C. commission votes to give tribes formal recognition

By JOEY HOLLEMAN

Staff Writer


The tears started streaming down Linda Hatcher Atkinson’s face Thursday as a state commission moved to formally recognize the Waccamaws as a Native American tribe in South Carolina.

As the members of the Commission for Minority Affairs voted one by one, tears spread throughout the audience. The last “yes” vote prompted a raucous cheer and hugs all around.

Dozens of people who legally — and in many other ways — had been denied their birthright suddenly had reclaimed it.

“It means, in a sense, freedom,” Atkinson said after the meeting, another round of tears flowing.

“I’m 59 years old. It was so hard to claim what I was growing up. We were called a negative name, and we weren’t allowed to say we were Indians.”

Technically, the recognition doesn’t mean much for the tribes. They don’t get any state funds. But they now legally can label their work as Native American art and can apply for some grants targeted for Native Americans.

Spiritually, it means everything.

“It is the most significant thing South Carolina has done for Native American Indian people in 300 years,” said Will Goins, chief executive officer of the Eastern Cherokee, Southern Iroquois and United Tribes of S.C. “For the first time, this state is going to embrace their people who happen to be Indian.”

The commission approved as Native American tribes the Waccamaws, many from the Horry County community of Dimery, and the Pee Dee Tribe of Upper South Carolina, based in the Dillon County community of Little Rock.

The Eastern Cherokees, based in Oconee County, and the Wassamasaw Tribe of Varnertown Indians, based in Berkeley County, were approved as Native American Indian groups, a classification with slightly less stringent requirements.

They were four of six entities that applied in the first round of recognition since the Legislature approved the process last year.

Tribal applications were denied for the Chaloklowa Chickasaw Indian People and the Fields Indian Family-Pine Hill Indians because they didn’t meet standards proving their historical basis. The Chaloklowa Chickasaw plan to reapply for group status immediately, said Chief Vernon Tanner.

Buster Hatcher, the burly chief of the Waccamaw, isn’t the crying type, yet he wiped tears off his cheek several times during the meeting.

For the 365 members of his tribe, “it legitimized who they’ve always been and who they’ve always been told they couldn’t be,” Hatcher said.

The commission members even got caught up in the emotion, several of them tearing up. “I’ll never forget this day for the rest of my life,” said chairman Jerry Finney.

Before Thursday, the federally recognized Catawbas of the Rock Hill area were the only tribe in the state. Thursday’s decision added about 1,600 people in the state who legally can claim to be Indians.

To earn the state recognition, the various entities had to provide paperwork showing they had enough people with common heritage and a long-standing tribal history. Genealogical records had to go back several generations, back to times when Native Americans had reason to deny their heritage to avoid persecution.

In recent years, South Carolina residents with Native American backgrounds have embraced their heritage. They organized powwows and other events to spotlight their customs. Many already declared their race as Native American on their voter registration cards.

Now, four tribes have state recognition of their heritage.

As Chief Carolyn Chavis Bolton of the Pee Dee Indian Nation said, “I don’t have to prove who I am anymore.”

Reach Holleman at (803) 771-8366 or jholleman@thestate.com.

lynellarainhawk
02-20-2005, 11:25 PM
Oh hey Vance,

:) This is completely awsome! How exciting! If I had printer paper I'd print this up right now. Thank you for posting rthis. Sorry I've been so STUCK UP!:p Love & Light, Lynella.