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After facing nearly a decade of strife, the Catawba Indian Nation, South Carolina’s only federally recognized Native American tribe, may be heading for a brighter future.

In 2020, the Catawba Nation fought off the coronavirus (American Indians were found by the Centers for Disease Control to be more susceptible to the virus). The Catawbas lost tribal leader Butch Sanders to the virus in November 2020.

In 2017, the Catawbas had to fight in the South Carolina legislature to get their children to attend public schools in Rock Hill, South Carolina, where their reservation is located.

And the tribe has been fighting since 2013 to make financial improvements.

The Catawba Nation’s unemployment rate, calculated as of April 2020, was 13.8%, more than three times the unemployment rate for North and South Carolina. Median household income is around $ 30,000, according to records. This is about 30% less than the median income in the two Carolinas.

In 2013, the Indian nation of Catawba announced plans to build a casino, ultimately called Two Kings Casino, in King’s Mountain, North Carolina. fifth year.

The casino could be the break the tribe needs to overcome their financial difficulties.

The casino faced many hurdles – political opposition, failed claims, and a federal lawsuit brought by the eastern band of Cherokee Indians. But an April 16 Federal Court ruling denying the trial removed the casino’s last hurdle. Catawba representatives now say part of the casino will open in July.

Herald reporter Tobie Nell Perkins recently spoke with Catawba Chief William “Bill” Harris to talk about the Catawba Nation.

Harris, 67, became chief in 2011. Harris says this is his last term, but plans to lead until 2023. The chief said he hopes the casino will allow the Catawbas to overcome their financial difficulties.

“It was a long, difficult fight,” he says. “We are correcting historic wrongs.”

His answers have been drafted for brevity.

We are at a really pivotal time for the Catawbas because there was the pandemic, and at the same time, the casino is progressing. Talk about the impact of COVID.

“We have lost tribal citizens to COVID. As you well know, the indigenous community is very sensitive to COVID-19, and there were communities that lost a lot of people … Fortunately, that did not happen here. Ours were usually staggered losses, but we also lost a tribal chief during the pandemic. Butch Sanders, we lost him in November of last year.

“But there were good things that came out of COVID. One was the ability to interact with people virtually, which we had never done before. People were reluctant to do this because usually when you show up in the round room, which is the general council room, only tribal citizens are allowed in that room.

“What we saw was that there was a community interest that was not within driving distance to attend virtual meetings. When we did our first virtual meeting, we had people from California, Colorado, Mississippi, Utah, who are reconnecting now. Before that, they only had a newsletter.

“And with that, I hope what we’ll do is build on that and create hybrid general council meetings where you can be present, or you can be virtual.”

The roadblocks leading to the Kings Mountain Casino have been removed. Do you think the casino is creating a big financial change?

“Let’s talk about what economic development is. There is no community, a society that can survive without economic development. Without economic development, you will be limited to your resources. As of now, Catawba has had this for many years, because what we have survived on is our ability to write grants and meet the needs of the people through those grants.

“This is the most important thing about future economic stability is that you no longer wait for Congress to dictate what you can and cannot have.”

Is this a chance for the tribe to gain some control over their financial situation?

“Absolutely. What everyone has said about indigenous people is that they don’t know how to run their affairs. But when you look at indigenous communities that have these kinds of opportunities, they are very good at it. Look at the thriving native tribes and communities who have benefited greatly from the game. The Seminole Tribe (Florida) owns five of the Hard Rock Cafes, for one.

Will the casino employ a lot of Catawba citizens?

“I hope so, because it’s going to be something that you can sit down and say, ‘I’m a part of that. It’s not that I own it. I’m part of. And with that, there should be pride. If you work there, you know that you are truly an ambassador for our nation. It’s a job they’ll be proud of, that they’re on top of the timeline from when it happened. When they become a grandparent or great-grandparent, they can sit down and say, ‘I was there in 2021 when that door first opened. ” ”

Talk about the Catawba’s relationship with the state and town of Rock Hill.

“I think it’s time for South Carolina to come back and sit at this table, or we’ll sit at their table and have a chat. Let’s start working on this because we can really be a beneficial partner. We have always had this ability.

“When I took office in 2011, what I saw is that it’s time to rebuild some fences. I think there are, in many ways, a lot of misconceptions, even today about “what Catawba is.” What are they doing there? Can we go there?

“But you also see the sign arriving (when booking). It doesn’t say “You are not allowed here”. He says “Welcome to the Catawba reserve”.

“You’re welcome here.”

Do you have anything else to say?

“To the Catawba community, what I want to say is that it was a long, difficult fight. Right now, we are correcting historical wrongs. Recognize it and accept what it is.

“To the non-Catawba community, what I mean is we’ve been your friends for generations. For hundreds of years, we have welcomed you to our community. All we ask is that you accept as well, as we never know when something Catawbas can bring will move a project forward. And Catawbas doesn’t know what Rock Hill can bring.

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