The Waccamaw Indian tribe here in South Carolina is facing an impossible hurdle imposed by the federal government in their quest to give proper burial to their ancestors.
According to Chief Harold "Buster" Hatcher, the Bureau of Indian Affairs refuses to officially recognize the Waccamaws as a tribe because they are unable to show direct genealogical ties from a known Waccamaw from the 1600s all the way through the generations to a known Waccamaw today.
What? They think those Indians back in the 1600s, who did not read or write and only communicated through a spoken language called Sioun, which Hatcher said means "snakes", could actually produce those detailed genealogical records? Are they supposed to get on Ancestry.com and run a search? Maybe if they purchase the premium version, would that help?
"We were primitive," said Hatcher in an interview yesterday. "My people were hunters, they had gardens and they took care of each other. We lived in suks, dome-shaped huts made from willow trees and covered with bark. The chief had a police force called 'red shirts,' who took care of everything. And there was a fire keeper who was really a spiritual leader. But they did not read or write, so there were no birth certificates or death certificates."
The federal government's refusal to understand how genealogy requirement this puts the Waccamaw in an impossible position frustrates Hatcher, who has been seeking recognition for many years for his tribe. The primary reason: some 600 sets of remains that are presumed to be Waccamaw are being housed in boxes in museums in South Carolina and the feds refuse to turn them over to the tribe for proper burial.
Another important factor is that without federal recognition, Hatcher says the Waccamaws cannot legally use an eagle's feather in its burial ceremony, a sacred tradition for the Waccamaw people.
"I was shot in Vietnam," said Hatcher. "I received the Purple Heart and many other awards, but still I cannot get this recognition for my people."
The very fact that the tribe must seek this recognition angers Hatcher. "I don't think there should be any official recognition of a person required before you can have rights like everyone else," he said. "But I've got to play their game so I and my people can have the same rights of every other American."
The State of South Carolina recognizes the Waccamaws, the original occupants of much of the land in the area along the Waccamaw River and elsewhere in the state, because it does not have the same genealogy requirement as the federal government.
Before the white settlers came, they lived and raised their families on South Carolina land, but they had no titles or deeds. Then the government gave the land to the settlers, forcing the Indians to leave. Uprisings resulted, and ultimately the Indians were shunted aside and many today live in poverty.
Hatcher says he's appealed many times to South Carolina's representatives in the U.S. Congress, but has had no success. Rep. Tom Rice has been sympathetic, but that has led to nothing, according to the chief. The two senators, Lindsay Graham and Tim Scott, have simply ignored his letters.
The Waccamaws should have the ability to bury their dead in the tradition of their religion, just like every other American. It's just another example of how these original Americans have been treated over the years, and it is not right.