Will it ever end? From the moment that Southern planters began intentionally breeding Native American slaves to African American slaves, Southern politicians fought vehemently to define any person with any African heritage as African. People who were part Native American and part European were merely defined as mixed-race trash.
However, since Paul Revere and the Raiders in the late 1960s had their big rock hit, “Cherokee People, Cherokee Nation,” it has been cool to be mixed white and Native American, especially if your great-great grandmother was a Cherokee Princess. Little did they know that the DNA that made Cherokees look like Indians was mostly Middle Eastern DNA. The new discovery has propelled many part-Cherokee members of the KKK and Patriots to psychiatric therapy.
The latest chapter in this saga, is to be exact, a proposed change to Chapter 139 of the South Carolina Code of Regulations providing for recognition of Native American Indian Groups. State Representative Liston D. Barfield of Conway, SC has introduced House Bill 4360 to the legislature. The bill orders the South Carolina Commission of Minority Affairs to cease designating “Native American Groups.” In South Carolina, if you are part European and part Native American, the state calls you a tribe. If you are mixed Native American, African and European, you are only recognized as “a group.”
The Etiwan Tribe of the Wassamasaw Indian Nation in South Carolina is quite upset about this bill. Whether they realize it or not, they are Creek Indians and share an ancient cultural tradition with Creeks elsewhere in the Southeast. Apparently, South Carolina officials don’t know what Creek Indians look like. We will tell you more about them a little later.
Chapter 139 of the South Carolina Code defines Native American Indian group as “a number of individuals assembled together, which have different characteristics, interests, and behaviors that do not denote a separate ethnic and cultural heritage today, as they once did. The group is composed of both Native American Indians and other ethnic races. They are not all related to one another by blood. A tribal council and governmental authority unique to Native American Indians govern them.”
The bill goes on to say, “Whereas, while the number of entities that may be recognized as Native American Indian Tribes is finite while recognition of Native American Indian Groups is unlimited; and whereas, by continuing to recognize Native American Indian Groups, all of which are entitled membership on the Advisory Committee of the Commission for Minority Affairs, the number of group members could easily outnumber and outvote the number of Tribe members on the Advisory Committee.”
Native Americans are all the same?
So real Injuns all have the same physical characteristics, interests and behaviors? They would have to be clones. Lovely Carrie Underwood is a BIA card-carrying citizen of the federally-recognized Muscogee-Creek Nation. Wes Studi is a card-carrying citizen of the federally recognized Cherokee Nation. Wes is a fine actor, but if Carrie looked like Wes, it is unlikely that she would be making $31 million a year as a performer. Carrie dyes her hair, by the way. Actress, Irene Bedard, does not dye her hair (or at least not blond.) She is a federally recognized Native American, but does not look like either Carrie or Wes. These three Native American celebrities had very different childhoods and live different lifestyles today.
The Wassamasaw had highfalutin ancestors. They are descended from the Itsate Creeks, who build great towns such as Okmulgee, Okute, Etowah and Copal (Track Rock Terrace Complex in the GA Mountains.)
As the primary territories of the Itsate Creeks became over-populated, individual villages or bands spread southeastward from western North Carolina and eastward from northern Georgia into present day South Carolina. In some places, they set themselves up as the elite over less sophisticated peoples. For example, the Katapa Creeks, north of present day Atlanta, established colonies in northeastern South Carolina among the Siouans there. Their descendants are known as Catawba’s today.
The ethnic name used by the province where the Wassmasaw lived, was Etawa. By the mid-1700s the population of Etawa was so depleted that the Colony of South Carolina settled the remnants on a few small reserves. These small pockets absorbed the Native American slaves, who were freed by King George I, white-Native mixed bloods and also mixed African-Native American freemen. Living on the margins of Southern plantation society, these communities maintained some Native American traditions, but would be defined today as mestizos.
Throughout many parts of South Carolina and eastern Georgia mixed blood Native Americans formed these enclaves. Since they, at least initially, owned their land, they were not subject to the laws and treaties that forced many Native Americans eventually to Oklahoma. Some communities were mixed Native and white, while others were tri-racial. There are no state-recognized tribes in South Carolina composed of pure-blood Native American clones, as suggested by the state’s laws. In general, though, the Native Americans in what South Carolina labels “groups” have much more pronounced Native American features than found in the “tribes.” Real Native Americans did not look like Hollywood Injuns.
History reality check
Southeastern Native Americans never defined ethnicity by skin color or blood quantum, until pressured to do so by Bureau of Indian Affairs officials. Tribal membership was defined by being a contributing member of a community. There are many documented cases of people of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds rising to leadership positions of a tribe in which they were not born.
In 1710, Native American slaves composed 20% of the population of the Charlestowne Colony. Slaves of African origin composed 40% of the population, while Europeans composed 40%. Free Native Americans were not counted. Many Native American slaves escaped during the Yamasee War (1715-1717.) by 1720 65% percent of the population was enslaved. Native Americans probably represented a smaller percentage by then.
Perhaps more so than any other state in the nation, South Carolina was originally occupied by indigenous peoples of extremely diverse ethnicity. Their provinces had names originating in the Siouan, Yuchi, Shawnee, Muskogean, Itza Maya, Arawak, Carob, Tupi-Guarani, Zoque and Medieval Irish Gaelic languages. Perhaps there were even other ethnic origins. These diverse provinces were some of the most culturally advanced north of Mexico. Their capitals contained large temple mounds and plazas. The state-recognized Natchez is composed a small band of descendants, who arrived in the state in the late 1730s.
When explorer, John Lawson, paddled up South Carolina’s Santee River in 1700, he noted that virtually every village spoke a language that was mutually unintelligible to its nearest neighbors. While traveling through the northern area of South Carolina that the state now labels traditional Cherokee territory, he didn’t not mention a tribe named Cherokee or record a place name in the Cherokee language.
The first official map to list a tribe named Charakee was made by George Hunter in 1725. The portion of this tribe in South Carolina was estimated to include about 1200 people, of whom 200 were men of military age. They only lived in the extreme northwest corner of the state. The names of their towns were primarily Creek words, but also included one of each of Majorcan, Jewish and Anatolian origin. One of the very few South Carolina Cherokee chiefs with a Native American name, Wahachee, is a Creek word that means his ancestors came from the south. In contrast, at the time of European Contact (before arrival of Cherokees) the Native American population of South Carolina probably numbered at least 500,000.
The 200+ Cherokees in South Carolina, who somehow managed to survive the French and Indian War, were officially removed from the colony in 1763. There has never been a Cherokee reservation in South Carolina. The few surviving Native American words in their former territory that South Carolina textbooks ascribe to the Cherokees, such as Jocasee, Chauga, Tamasee, Keowee, Oconee and Saluda are actually standard Creek words, the mother tongue of the Wassamasaw.
There is clearly something askew in the current Native American history programs in South Carolina, which is reflected in the strange wording of House Bill 4360. The state’s websites and textbooks falsely present South Carolina’s former Cherokee occupants as its largest INDIGENOUS tribe, but barely mention the many small remnant tribes. It is quite common for residents in much of the state to claim substantial Cherokee ancestry, when they most likely carry a trace of some other tribe. The Cherokee claim is primarily made in order to infer that they have no African ancestry, unlike most of the South Carolinians with substantial indigenous DNA.
The indigenous, federally recognized Catawba, whose reservation in extreme northern South Carolina has 810 residents, is given secondary prominence in South Carolina’s educational programs. Katapa was a Creek speaking town when contacted by Juan Pardo in 1567. At some point in the late 1600s or early 1700s, it formed a confederacy of the many small ethnic groups mentioned by John Lawson. Apparently, most of these confederated provinces spoke dialects of Southern Siouan. The Catawba spoken today is a blend of those assimilated ethnic groups.
The facts of history are that none of South Carolina’s state-recognized Native American tribes OR groups functioned as sovereign governmental entities from the mid-1700s until the late 20th century. All were pushed to the margins of a Caucasian dominated plantation society. None have Native American family names. Those of predominantly Caucasian heritage often make up Hollywoodish “Indian” names like “John Dancing Bear” and Joan “Singing Dove.” All tribal and group members are mestizos. All lost their language and most of their traditions that set them apart from Europeans.
The only trait that sets the “groups” apart is skin color. The Native American communities with some African heritage have skin color much closer to their Native American ancestors. When a state law excludes those with darker skin pigment from equal participation in the services provided by the state government, it is quite probably that constitutional law is being breached.