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Good News from the Waccamaw Pau Wau

Dancers celebrate the heritage of the Waccamaw Indian People at their annual Pau Wau festival Nov. 5 in Aynor, SC.

There was some positive news today at the Waccamaw Indian People's Pau Wau, the annual celebration of the Waccamaw's culture held at the tribe's tribal grounds near Aynor, SC.

SC Secretary of State Mark Hammond, who attended the event, met with Waccamaw Chief Buster Hatcher and expressed his interest in helping the Waccamaws obtain recognition as an official Indian tribe by the federal government.

"He was extremely interested in what we're doing and said he would help make this happen," said Hatcher.

While the state of South Carolina recognized the Waccamaws as an official tribe several years ago, the federal government has refused, requiring the tribe to provide evidence of direct genealogical ties from a known Waccamaw from the 1600s all the way through the generations to a known Waccamaw today.

While it is unclear exactly what help Hammond can offer since the issue is in the hands of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, Hatcher said that whatever assistance he can provide will be welcome.

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."

For more about the Waccamaws and their battle for recognition, view the documentary, "Americans Before America." It was produced by myself and award winning videographer David Hinshaw.

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