Tribal members of South Carolina’s Catawba Indian Nation near Rock Hill are called, “The people of the river.”
On Thursday, they were joined by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to unveil plans to conserve and re-establish land and plants near the river that are unique to the heritage of the Catawbas. Haaland and the federal government will give the tribe $4.8 million to do it.
The goal is to “respect nature, and restore, balance,” Haaland told a gathering tribal leaders and members, along with other state and civic leaders at the reservation in York County.
Haaland, from New Mexico, is the first indigenous person to serve as a cabinet secretary in American history. Catawbas welcomed her with a song in their native language Thursday.
Haaland said the Biden-Harris administration is committed to conserving natural places. The grant is a “commitment to honoring tribal sovereignty,” Haaland said.
Land, water, and conservation
The money will be used for two culvert replacements that benefit water and land life along the river; to re-establish Rocky Shoals Spider Lillies in the river at the reservation; convert some land back to native prairie with indigenous plants, grasses and flowers; and re-establish cane breaks of indigenous river cane that are vital to Catawba crafts and customs.
The $4.8 million is part of $140 million across the country in a program called “America the Beautiful” the Biden administration is granting for collaborative conservation efforts.
The shared goal in the projects is to protect the natural resources unique to the area, said Keith Bradley, lead botanist for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources
Catawbas unique identity and culture
The indigenous Catawbas are the only federally recognized tribe in South Carolina. The 144,000 acre reservation in eastern York County is the tribal headquarters.
Catawba pottery and weaving using native grasses is known worldwide for its quality and unique craftsmanship.
The tribe’s people have a relationship with the land and river that is an integral part of the identity of the Catawbas, said Aaron Baumgardner, director of natural resources for the Catawba Indian Nation.
Baumgardner said ecosystems in the area under ecological threat will be protected by the project.
The idea is to “heal our land and river,” Baumgardner said Thursday.
Baumgardner said cane breaks, or groups of river cane, that will be re-established are a native type of bamboo crucial for Catawba basket making and other cultural practices.
The Rocky Shoal Spider Lily is a flowering river plant that is found only in a few places in the world, including the Catawba River currently further south of the reservation. Plans are to re-establish the flowering plant at the reservation, Baumgardner said.
Harris, the tribe’s chief, said the public will be able to enjoy the efforts because the Carolina Thread Trial system goes through the reservation.
“Our commitment is to safeguard the river and its nearby natural resources,” Harris said Thursday.
To learn more about the Catawba Indian Nation, visit the tribe’s Webs site, catawba.com.