The Waccamaw Indian People of Conway, South Carolina, are the descendants of a group of people who lived and farmed in the area of South Carolina now known as Dog Bluff. Although the inhabitants of the Dimery settlement conducted business and existed as a separate community throughout the years, it wasn’t until 1992 that a formal organization was formed to protect the history and traditions of our people.
The tribe was chartered as a non-profit organization in October of 1992, with the initial organizational meeting held on October 17, 1992. At this meeting, the original founders relinquished all control to the tribal council. The word “Chicora” was added in January 1993 by a majority vote of the governing council. This addition was intended to define the area of our people and to establish the boundaries of the Waccamaw. In January of 2002, the tribal community voted to eliminate the term “Chicora” from its name in order to avoid confusion with another group in the area using the word to denote their people.
The Ancient Waccamaw
The ancient Waccamaw were river dwellers who lived along the Waccamaw River covering an area that reached from North Carolina’s Lake Waccamaw to Winyah Bay near Georgetown, South Carolina. If the conclusions of Dr. John R. Swanton are correct, the Waccamaw People may have been one of the first mainland groups of Natives visited by the Europeans. The Spanish, under Francisco Gordillo and Pedro de Quexos (c1521), took several ships loaded with Indian people and carried them off into slavery. One of those enslaved was a man who became known as “Francisco de Chicora.” Francisco identified more than twenty tribes who lived in this area. The greatest importance, however, seems to attach to “Chicora” and “Duhare,” the northern most provinces on Francisco’s list. Considering Dr. Swanton’s findings, it appears that these nations were the Waccamaw and the Cape Fear respectively.
The Waccamaw were adept at the domestication of animals, including deer. They manufactured cheese from does’ milk. Additionally, they kept a variety of chickens, ducks, geese, and other domestic fowl. There were gardens to tend, both private and communal. Everyone worked in the community garden, including the chiefs, who were seen planting and gathering the crops along with their tribe. Among their crops were corn, pumpkins, kidney beans, lima beans, squash, melons, gourds and tobacco.
European contact nearly wiped out the Waccamaw. Because we had no defense for the diseases they brought, our people died by the hundreds. When the Europeans needed labor, our people were forced into slavery. The king ordered all owners to free their Indian slaves (c1752). The loss of their slaves, however, would have devastated the plantations, and so the owners simply tried to turn us Black. After the Emancipation Proclamation, thousands of Indians walked off the cotton fields along with the Blacks.
Matters of Identity
People tend to identify with those who possess the same features and traits; because we didn’t fit with either the “White” or “Black” race, we banded with our own. Our people migrated across South Carolina several times but continued to retain a community of their own. In the mid 1700s the Dimery settlement, near Dog Bluff, South Carolina, was formed. There was a dedicated school and church, and this community of Dimerys, Cooks, Hatchers, Turners, and others was widely known as Indian.
In 1934 the local county officials, attempting to save tax dollars, decided to re-designate the Dimery School as “Colored.” The people of the settlement refused to relinquish their identity and would not allow their children to attend Colored school. They took the children to the nearby “White” school, where they were denied entry. The case was settled after Vander Hatcher, along with other community leaders, filed a lawsuit against the county. The suit demanded that proper school facilities be provided for the settlement’s inhabitants “who had no Colored blood in their veins.”
Rather than provide a separate school, the county officials designated a group of individuals to look at each child and decide the race based upon facial features, skin color, and other traits. In one case a brother attended a “Colored” school while his sister, with the same mother and father, attended a “White” school.
At that time, the law required that legal records such as birth certificates, death certificates, school records, etc., list our people as “White,” “Black,” or “Mulatto.” The term “Indian” was not allowed. However, when venturing outside the settlement, residents of the Dimery Settlement were treated differently from the Whites or Blacks. For example, they were hired and trusted to do local work but were not allowed to eat in restaurants unless they sat at the counter and ate from paper plates. If any of them married outside the settlement, they were often prosecuted and imprisoned for the crime of miscegenation, as were any Whites who married them.
The relationship between the Indian people and the local and federal governments has always been an adversarial one. Fear of land lawsuits (and recently gambling) has caused many elected officials to deny our existence. The federal and state laws were amended to guarantee Blacks the same freedoms as Whites. This has never been done for Indians. We are the only race in this country that must prove who we are, and we are the most regulated people in America today! We were not even allowed to become citizens until 1924, and worse still, Indian graveyards were not protected until 1987.
The omission of protection allows those who see our heritage as a money-making opportunity to take advantage of us. Recently in Virginia there was a market that sold Indian artifacts, and in one case had a pair of moccasins on display and for sale with the skeletal feet still inside! In another case a person bought a graveyard and bulldozed 36 of 40 tombstones before our efforts with the local media caused him to stop.
The leadership of the Waccamaw has been instrumental in achieving some level of equality for Natives in this country and especially in the state of South Carolina. Our Chief, Harold D. Hatcher, worked to address the issues that separated Indians from those of the general populace and from each other. In 1994, working with President Bill Clinton and the White House staff, he was able to achieve several concessions from the United States government, which brought a more nearly level playing field to American Indians across the country.
In the state of South Carolina, our leaders have worked with Governors Campbell, Beasley, Hodges, and Sanford in addressing state level inequities. In July 2003, the state enacted a bill which was signed by Governor Sanford allowing the state’s American Indians the same protections that had been afforded to Blacks as early as 1976. However, the job is not done. Still today, there are over 600 sets of human remains stored in cardboard boxes in the state’s museums. The Waccamaw, among other tribes and Native American groups in our state, are spearheading efforts to repatriate our ancestors’ remains, thereby providing for them the dignity they deserve in their eternal rest.
The Waccamaw Today
The Waccamaw today are a proud people. We are striving to retain what remains of our history, arts, and crafts, and to regain the heritage afforded us by our ancestors. We are the first tribe in the State of South Carolina to obtain official recognition from the South Carolina Office of Vital Statistics. Additionally, the Waccamaw gained approval from the Governor’s Minority Affairs Ad Hoc Committee on Indian Recognition as an Indian Tribe as defined in the State of South Carolina.
At the South Carolina Commission of Minority Affairs meeting on February 17, 2005, the Waccamaw Indian People made history by becoming the first of two state recognized tribes in the history of the state of South Carolina. Today there are five state – recognized tribes in South Carolina.
WACCAMAW TRIBAL COUNCIL
|Tribal Chief||Harold D. Hatcher|
|2nd Chief External||Phillip White|
|2nd Chief Internal||Iris H. Ewing|
|2nd Chief Judicial||Cheryl Sievers|
|WACCAMAW TRIBAL COUNCIL|
|Scott Beaver||Seat 2 and Chief of Council|
|Dalton Hatcher||Council Member Seat 1|
|Neal Richard||Council Member Seat 3|
|Homer Johnson||Council Member Seat 4|
|Richia Powell||Council Member Seat 5|
|Susan H. Hatcher||Council Member Seat 6|
|Robert Benton||Council Member Seat 7|
|WACCAMAW COUNCIL OF ELDERS|
|Henry “Hank” White||Parliamentarian|
|Tribal Judge||Bernard Hamilton|
|Tribal Judge||Ronnie Floyd|
|Chief of Constables||David Charlie Blue WindBurn Sr.|
|2nd Chief Judicial||Cheryl Sievers|
|Tribal Treasurer||Reba McCaffrey|
|Tribal Bookkeeper||Iris Ewing|
|Tribal Secretary||Jennifer Michelle Hatcher|
On May 7, 2004, The Waccamaw Indian People acquired twenty acres of land in the Dog Bluff community near Aynor, SC. Because Dog Bluff is the ancestral homeland of the tribe, we are overjoyed to reclaim a piece of our ancestral grounds. This milestone was reached thanks to the generosity of Shaun and Shirley Perkins.
Work is in progress on the site as the tribe prepares to host our 20th Annual Pauwau there in November 2012.
Reverend Joel Wilson of the Christian Church of Myrtle Beach has donated to us a nice 30 X 30 foot building. There is some work to be done on it and it will need to be moved but it is a great opportunity for us to get a decent building for our use on the grounds. We can take one more step forward, but we will need money to do it right.
We have moved the building, blocked it, added a ramp, and new carpet; our first meeting in it was July. We are having roof issues and need to get it fixed and we need to re-screen the front porch. If you would like to help in these endeavors, please send a note to WaccamawChief@gmail.com and I will contact you.
Watch us as we continue to grow!