Waccamaws Continue Federal Recognition Quest
by Bob Gatty
Requirements imposed by the federal government for South Carolina’s Waccamaw Indian People to be recognized as an official Indian tribe amount to “documentary genocide,” according to Waccamaw Chief Harold Hatcher.
Addressing the Carolina Forest Democrats meeting May 14, Hatcher said requirements that the Waccamaws must show unbroken lineage from the first ancient Indian from the 1600s to today are virtually impossible to meet because there were no written records kept in those early days.
“The Indian people are the only people in the country that have to be officially recognized by the government,” said Hatcher, noting that no such requirement exists for any other ethnic group to have full rights of U.S. citizenship. That requirement, by itself, is discriminatory, he contended.
Native Americans face other discriminatory obstacles, noted the Waccamaw chief, adding that rights guaranteed to all U.S. citizens, in practice, do not apply to them. Those include freedom of religion.
“I’m a combat veteran, but when I buried my mother, I could not bury her according to our religion and traditions,” he said, noting that all Americans are guaranteed the right to freedom of religion—”except Indians.”
“When they made those laws (imposing impossible requirements for recognition) they knew they were pretty much outlawing Indians,” Hatcher declared. That way, he explained, it would be possible to confiscate their homes, their farms, their lands. After all, in the eyes of the government, they really were not people entitled to anything.
“We call it documentary genocide,” he said.
Today, there are some 600 sets of human remains of Waccamaw ancestors on shelves and in boxes warehoused in museums around the state. The Waccamaws want to gain access to those remains so they can be properly buried, but the government refuses to allow this without federal recognition—even though the tribe has been officially recognized by the state.
“Those are my ancestors and if I cannot get access to them, then something is wrong,” he declared.
Hatcher has tried to convince South Carolina’s representatives in Congress to introduce legislation providing the needed recognition, but despite promises over the years, nothing has happened. “We need to find a way to convince them that this is the right thing to do,” he said.
The chief pointed out that a new documentary,”A Right to Bury their Own,” is being produced to help tell the story of the Waccamaws, their contribution to the state and nation, and the need for federal recognition. “We hope this will help bring attention to this situation,” he explained.
More information about the documentary is available at www.waccamaw.org/documentary, where an introductory video can be seen. In addition, a Go Fund Me campaign is now underway to help raise the necessary funds to complete the video project, which is being led by award winning videographer David Hinshaw.
“We’re hoping to generate enough financial support so we can bring this project to a successful conclusion,” said Chief Hatcher. “Any and all contributions will be very much appreciated.”
In the photo, Chief Hatcher is shown with his wife, Susan, who is also a tribe official, and Alester Pryor, president of the Carolina Forest Democrats and HCDP Secretary.