Native American Heritage Month: The Catawba Indian Nation
Open Doors is a St. Stephen small group whose members strive to live out their baptismal vows to resist evil, injustice, and oppression. Open Doors offers occasional commentaries and articles exploring a wide range of issues at the intersection of faith and justice.
Last November, I saw a huge banner hanging outside of a big church in Dilworth. “WE ARE ON CATAWBA LAND,” the banner proclaimed, initiating my journey to learn more about the people who had long called Mecklenburg County and our surrounding area their home. Flash forward one year later, and I’ve also learned — courtesy of the latest United Methodist General Commission on Race and Religion newsletter — that November is Native American Heritage Month.
I think I remember something about this; it was created by President George H.W. Bush in 1990, after all. Over the years, I’d seen maybe a day or two celebrating Native American cultures. But, other that? Mostly silence. Perhaps I needed that huge church banner squarely in front of my face to open my eyes and think more about indigenous peoples, including the Catawbas. So, I embarked on some reading and exploration.
A brief history, most of us know, is that when the Americas were “discovered,” some 50 million indigenous people were already living here, 10 million in what would become the United States. Many cultures and societies had already existed before Columbus “discovered” the Americas. (History Channel: Native American Cultures)
The Catawbas controlled this area, where Charlotte and Mecklenburg County would later be formed after the arrival of English settlers in the middle of the 1700s. By 1760, warfare and smallpox reduced this native population dramatically. Two centuries later, in 1959, the federal government terminated federal recognition of the Catawba Indian Nation. The Catawbas organized. In 1993 they regained federal recognition and won a $50 million Indian land claims settlement from the federal government and South Carolina. (Charlotte Museum of History: The Catawba Indian Nation)
I was able to meet with a leader ten years ago, who showed me where some Catawbas were living at the time — in small trailers placed on a patch of muddy land. Nothing like how I live. I felt so ashamed how our white people have treated them. So, what to do? Certainly, I can’t change the past. None of us can. But, we can educate ourselves and encourage others to do the same. We can support the Catawba Nation now, including its many fine cultural and arts events. Inside of St. Stephen and through the larger United Methodist Church, we can learn more about and get involved in efforts of repentance and acknowledgment.
Learn More: Native American Heritage Month