Waccamaw Indian tribe seeks federal recognition, asks politicians for help

Published: Nov. 16, 2023 at 6:00 PM EST
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AYNOR, S.C. (WMBF) - Four Indian tribes across South Carolina are teaming up to seek recognition from the federal government in an effort that has taken over three decades.

One of them is the Waccamaw Indian tribe, based in Aynor.

Chief Harold Hatcher tells WMBF News getting federal recognition would allow members several benefits, but it’s something he wishes he didn’t have to fight for.

“I don’t think that’s right, I don’t think anybody should have to go through that kind of stuff to have the privileges everybody else has,” said Hatcher.

From free healthcare to giving ancestors proper burials, Hatcher said in many ways his tribe is deprived.

“Generally our population is poor, not educated, so they don’t have the money to have insurance,” said Hatcher.

Federal recognition would change that -- giving members a first aid clinic and access to human remains found on former Waccamaw land.

“We have a lot of our people on museum shelves. Not on display, they’re just there being held by the museum because they don’t know what to do with them,” said Hatcher. “The federal government owns them, and they won’t work with us because we’re not federal.”

Other benefits include giving input in Washington, D.C., and learning when the federal government is doing construction in areas where members of the tribes may be buried.

That’s why Hatcher is pushing Congressman Russell Fry to help, but said the public can help speed up the process too.

“Indian people are less than half a percent of the voting public. We can’t influence politicians, not that anybody can, but a lot of letters to a politician will make a lot of difference,” said Hatcher. “I’m interested in anybody that would be willing to join a letter-writing campaign on issues that affect Indian country.”

In a statement to WMBF News, Representative Fry’s office said, “Congressman Fry is aware that the Pee Dee Indian Tribe and the Waccamaw Indian People are both seeking federal recognition, and our office has been in communication with both tribes.”

The office added that they will continue working on the issue.

“I can’t say he’s working with us, but according to his office, he’s willing to work with us,” said Hatcher.

That feeling of in-between is what Hatcher said he and other tribe members feel most of the time -- invisible. He said it’s not fair, and believes federal recognition may help remedy the feeling.

“The only people in this country that are required to be recognized are Native Americans. No other ethnicity, none,” said Hatcher.

Hatcher said the Waccamaw tribe is working with the Catawba Nation in Rock Hill, which is the only tribe in South Carolina that has been granted federal recognition. He will meet with members of that tribe on Monday.