The Catawba Indian Nation of the 1750s developed from the integration of diverse Piedmont Indian people who belonged to and lived in autonomous communities along the Catawba River of North and South Carolina. Catawban-speaking Piedmont Indians experienced many processes of coalescence, where thinly populated groups joined the militarily strong Iswą Indians (Catawba proper) for protection and survival. Over twenty-five groups of Indians merged with the Iswą, creating an alliance or confederation of tribal communities. They all worked together building a unified community through kinship, traditional customs, and a shared history to form a nation, despite the effects of colonialism, which included European settlement, Indian slavery, warfare, disease, land loss, and federal termination. American settler colonialism, therefore, functions to erase and exterminate Native societies through biological warfare (intentional or not), military might, seizure of Native land, and assimilation. In spite of these challenges, the Catawbas’ nation-building efforts have been constant, but in 1960 the federal government terminated its relationship with the Nation. In the 1970s, the Catawba Indian Nation filed a suit to reclaim their land and their federal recognition status. Consequently, the Nation received federal recognition in 1993 and became the only federally recognized tribe in the state of South Carolina. The Nation has land seven miles east of the city of Rock Hill along the Catawba River. Tribal citizenship consists of 3,400 Catawbas including 2,400 citizens of voting age. The tribe holds elections every four years to fill five executive positions—Chief, Assistant Chief, Secretary/Treasurer, and two at-large positions. Scholarship on Southeastern Indians focuses less on the history of the Catawba Indian Nation and more on the historical narratives of the Five Civilized Tribes, which obscures the role Catawbas filled in the history of the development of the South. Finally, a comprehensive Catawba Nation history explains how the people became Catawba and, through persistence, ensured the survival of the Nation and its people.
The capture, adoption, and/or enslavement of enemies in North American warfare long predated the European invasion of the 16th century. In every region and among nearly every nation of Native North America, captive-taking continued after the arrival of the Spanish, English, and French and accelerated in the 18th century as a result of the opportunities and pressures that colonialism brought to bear on indigenous peoples. Although the famous narratives of Indian captivity were written by people of European descent, the majority of people who were taken and adopted or enslaved by Native Americans were themselves Native American women, girls, and boys. One scholar estimates that perhaps as many as 2.5 to 5 million Indigenous slaves were owned by Europeans in the Western hemisphere from 1492 to 1900; this estimate excludes the millions more who were retained within other Indigenous communities. Within these Native American communities, captives served a variety of purposes along a continuum: depending on their age and sex, they might be adopted fully into a new kinship network, or they might be ritually executed. Most captive adults seem to have endured fates in-between these dramatic poles: they might be marked as “adopted slaves” and set to the most tedious and repetitive work; they might be traded or given as gifts for profit or diplomacy; they might be subjected to coerced sex; or they might marry a captor and have children who were full kin members of their new community. Most would probably experience more than one of these fates. In the early 21st century, important scholarship on Native American captivity has emphasized its similarities to African slavery and how the African slave trade influenced Native American captive raiding, trading, and enslavement in the colonial era and in the early United States. But there were two possibly interrelated important differences between these two slaveries. First, unlike the adult male African captives who were preferred by Europeans for enslavement in North America, most captives taken by other Native Americans were women and children. Second, this Indigenous slavery was not heritable, although the captives themselves were frequently marked or even mutilated to signify their status as outsiders, or not-kin, in a world defined by kinship ties. Although the differences of intersecting European and Indigenous cultures, chronology, and context made for widely disparate experiences in Indian captivity and slavery over four centuries, one constant across time and space is that captive-taking seems to have been intended to grow the captors’ populations as well as deprive their enemies of productive and reproductive labor. The appropriation of girls’ and women’s sexuality and reproductive power became the means by which female captives might suffer intensely as well as possibly improve their standing and their children’s futures.