South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, meeting with SC Indian leaders f Monday evening, was told that state and federal government policies make Indians in the state "feel like an invisible race."
Responding to numerous requests by Waccamaw Indian People Chief Harold D. "Buster" Hatcher for a meeting to discuss key issues facing SC Indians, the governor listened intently as Hatcher and other tribal chiefs and other officials explained their concerns.
"Native Americans in this state feel that we are an invisible race," said Cheryl Sievers-Cail, vice chief of the Waccamaw Indian People, explaining that "throughout history, we have been pushed to the side." She said she thought the role of politicians in power was to help people who have been disadvantaged.
"The purpose of government is to help everybody," responded McMaster.
Key concerns expressed at the meeting:
Native people earn only 72 percent of the salaries earned by Caucasians for the same work.
The Native American high school dropout rate is five times as high, as is the infant mortality rate.
Native Americans serve in the military at a rate higher than any other ethnic group.
The murder rate for Native American women is 10 times the national average. Nationwide, 84 percent of Native American and Alaskan Native women have experienced violence; 56 percent, sexual violence. However, the rates in South Carolina are unknown because the designation "Native American" is not used on all police reports or other government documents.
Over 600 sets of human remains are stored in museums around the state awaiting a dignified burial. Hatcher said "we believe we are arriving upon a long-awaited solution," but may need the governor's help. McMaster said he was unaware of the issue.
Inaccurate information about Native Americans in South Carolina is being taught in public schools and that some schools are dropping such instruction. "There only answer I've been given is a lack of significance," said Sievers-Cail
The South Carolina Indian tribes have been denied permission to obtain equipment and other materials from federal and state surplus warehouses because they do not actually live on a reservation. Pointing out that churches are able to participate in the surplus program and people don't live in the churches, Hatcher said he believes the decision is "bigoted."
Hatcher told the governor that the state has "little knowledge" of its Native citizens or their tribal communities, and so they tend to be treated "as a special interest and not as a living breathing people in our home state."
"We lack the effective and development programs that Native American leaders need wherein they might work together and with government officials to find solutions for problems facing their people," he said.
McMaster told the Indian leaders to work with his chief of staff to resolve many of the issues about which they are concerned. "This is all very interesting," he said as the 40-minute meeting concluded.
"Governor McMaster was gracious, friendly and seemed genuinely interested in what we had to say," said Chief Hatcher. "I hope the meeting takes off and makes some things happen. But after 29 years, I know to be cautious."