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 Catawba Indians
American Indian Activism after 1945
American Indian activism after 1945 was as much a part of the larger, global decolonization movement rooted in centuries of imperialism as it was a direct response to the ethos of civic nationalism and integration that had gained momentum in the United States following World War II. This ethos manifested itself in the disastrous federal policies of termination and relocation, which sought to end federal services to recognized Indian tribes and encourage Native people to leave reservations for cities. In response, tribal leaders from throughout Indian Country formed the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) in 1944 to litigate and lobby for the collective well-being of Native peoples. The NCAI was the first intertribal organization to embrace the concepts of sovereignty, treaty rights, and cultural preservation—principles that continue to guide Native activists today. As American Indian activism grew increasingly militant in the late 1960s and 1970s, civil disobedience, demonstrations, and takeovers became the preferred tactics of “Red Power” organizations such as the National Indian Youth Council (NIYC), the Indians of All Tribes, and the American Indian Movement (AIM). At the same time, others established more focused efforts that employed less confrontational methods. For example, the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) served as a legal apparatus that represented Native nations, using the courts to protect treaty rights and expand sovereignty; the Council of Energy Resource Tribes (CERT) sought to secure greater returns on the mineral wealth found on tribal lands; and the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) brought Native educators together to work for greater self-determination and culturally rooted curricula in Indian schools. While the more militant of these organizations and efforts have withered, those that have exploited established channels have grown and flourished. Such efforts will no doubt continue into the unforeseeable future so long as the state of Native nations remains uncertain.
Indigenous Peoples and the Environment since 1890
By the late 19th century, the Indigenous peoples of what became the United States, in an effort to avoid utter genocide, had ceded or otherwise lost their land and control of their natural resources, often through treaties with the United States. Ironically, those treaties, while frequently abrogated by federal fiat, made possible a resurgence of Native nationhood beginning in the 1960s, along with the restoration of Indigenous reserved treaty rights to hunt and fish in their homelands and manage their natural resources. The history of Indigenous peoples and their environments, however, is not a single narrative but a constellation of stories that converge and diverge. Nonetheless, an analysis of the environmental histories of only a fraction of the more than 575 Indigenous groups, including Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians reveals important trends and commonalities, including the stories of dispossession and displacement, the promise of the Indian New Deal, the trauma of the Termination Era, the reemergence of Native sovereignty based on treaty rights, and the rise of Indigenous leadership in the environmental justice movement. This article is, thus, not comprehensive but focuses on major trends and commonalities from the mid- to late 19th century through the early 21st century, with examples drawn from the environmental histories of a fraction of the more than 575 Indigenous groups, including Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians. Topics include dispossession and displacement; the Indian New Deal; the Termination Era; the reemergence of Indigenous sovereignty based on treaty rights; the management of forests, minerals, and water; and the rise of the environmental justice movement. For the period before the establishment of reservations for Indigenous people, see “Indigenous Peoples and the Environment to 1890.”