SC to recognize eighth Native American tribe

jself@thestate.comNovember 18, 2013 

Chief Ralph Oxendine’s Cheraw Indian ancestors concealed their identity when they came to South Carolina. But, this week, the Sumter Tribe of Cheraw Indians will become the state’s eighth recognized Native American tribe.

“We had to hide our identity — to be someone, to be able to own land, to be able to vote, to be a person,” Oxendine said Monday at the Native American Awareness Day Celebration at the State House.

Tribal leaders from across South Carolina, including Oxendine, and state and local officials gathered Monday on the State House steps to celebrate another first-time recognition — Gov. Nikki Haley, the General Assembly and the city of Columbia each declaring November as the month to observe Native American heritage and history.

Tribal leaders set out to establish a month for recognizing Native-American culture as a way to encourage schools to teach students in all grades about their “joint history,” said Will Goins, chief executive officer for the Eastern Cherokee, Southern Iroquois and United Tribes.

Representatives of Santee Indian Organization, the PAIA Lower Eastern Cherokee, the Waccamaw Indian People and the Catawba Indian Nation, the state’s only federally recognized tribe, also spoke at the event.

Several speakers called on state, local and tribal leaders to use the event, organized by the S.C. Commission for Minority Affairs, to bring a renewed focus to highlighting the history and contributions of Native Americans in South Carolina.

Monday’s event was a “huge step in acknowledging the value (of Native Americans) as an ancient people ... and contemporary people” with a rich history and culture, said Lisa Collins, tribal administrator for the Wassamasaw Tribe of Varnertown Indians from the Berkeley County area.

“As the first people to live on the land we all cherish, American Indians have profoundly shaped our country’s character and our cultural heritage,” said state Rep. Dennis Moss, R-Cherokee, whose grandmother was a member of the Cherokee tribe. “Today, Native Americans are leaders in every aspect of our society, from the classroom to the boardroom to the battlefield.”

“It’s been too long,” said state Rep. Joe Neal, D-Richland. “We should have had this day many years ago.”

Reach Self at (803) 771-8658.

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