Waccamaw-Siouan Indian Tribe of North Carolina

Published on October 26, 2010 by John

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Waccamaw Siouan

Waccamaw Siouan Indians are one of eight state-recognized Native American tribal nations in North Carolina. Formerly Siouan-speaking, they are located predominantly in the southeastern North Carolina counties of Bladen and Columbus. They adopted this name in 1948. Their communities are St. James, Buckhead, and Council, with the Waccamaw Siouan tribal homeland situated on the edge of Green Swamp about 37 miles from Wilmington, North Carolina, seven miles from Lake Waccamaw, and four miles north of Bolton, North Carolina.

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According to the 2000 Census, the total Waccamaw Siouan Native American population in Columbus and Bladen counties was 2,343 (1,697 and 646, respectively). This represents 2.7% of the total combined Native American population of North Carolina. Current tribal enrollment consists of 1,245 members.

Between 1980 and 2000, the two-county area experienced a small overall population increase of 6.7% compared with a 37% rate of growth for North Carolina. The growth in the two counties was mostly in the Native American and Hispanic populations—61% and 295%, respectively. There was also a 7% increase in the black population, and a 0.6% decrease in the white population.


The tribe is governed by the Waccamaw Siouan Tribal Council, Inc., consisting of six members who are elected by the tribal membership with staggered terms of one to three years. The Tribal Chief’s position was formerly inherited or handed down in personal appointment. It is now an elected position. The tribe also has an Elders Review Committee, which conducts monthly tribal meetings to inform and educate members about issues of importance to the tribe as a whole. The opinions and suggestions of tribal members are solicited during these meetings and are incorporated into the decision-making process.

The tribal council employs a tribal administrator to handle the day-to-day operations of the tribe, with an annual budget of approximately $1 million. The administrator supervises the management of tribal grant programs and provides a monthly reporting of the status of grant activities to local, state, and federal agencies, private donors, the tribal council, and tribal members.

State and Federal Recognition

The Waccamaw Siouan Indians were recognized by the state of North Carolina in 1971, and holds membership on the NC Commission of Indian Affairs as per NCGS 143B-407. The Tribe was incorporated as a 501(c)3 organization in 1977. Lumbee Legal Services, Inc. represents the Waccamaw Siouan Tribe in its administrative process for seeking Federal recognition.


The earliest Europeans in the Carolinas were astounded by the linguistic diversity of what is now the Southeastern United States. Within the region now known as North Carolina, three language families were represented, as distinct from one another as Indo-European languages are from Finno-Ugric languages:

The Hatteras, Chowan, Moratok, Pamlico, Secotan, Machapunga, and the Weapemeoc of the coastal plain spoke a variety of Algonquian languages.
The Cherokee, Tuscarora, Coree, and Meherrin, who inhabited homelands from the coastal plain to the Appalachian Mountains, spoke a variety of Iroquoian languages.
The Catawba, Cheraw, Cape Fear, Eno, Keyauwee, Occaneechi, Tutelo, Saponi, Shakori, Sissipahaw, Sugeree, Wateree, Waxhaw, and Waccamaw of the Cape Fear River and Piedmont regions, were related Siouan-speaking peoples.
The ancestral Siouan Woccon language of the Waccamaw Siouan Indians of North Carolina was lost due to devastating population losses and social disruption of the 18th and 19th centuries.


The Legend of Lake Waccamaw
Since its earliest recorded exploration in 1735 by the naturalist William Bartram, (who was assisted in his efforts by Waccamaw Indians), Lake Waccamaw has been the subject of many stories describing its legendary origin. Many have proved to be the fanciful inventions of early European settlers.

According to the Waccamaw Siouan Indians, thousands of years ago, an immense meteor appeared in the night sky toward the southwest. Flaming to a brilliance of suns as it hurtled earthward, the meteor finally struck, burning itself deep within the earth. The waters of the surrounding swamps and rivers flowed into the crater and cooled it, creating the gem-blue, verdant green lake. Some historians contend that this story is the mid-20th century invention of James E. Alexander.

16th century
Some historians contend that the 1521 Spanish expedition led by Francisco Girebillo must have encountered a Waccamaw village when they traveled inland from the Carolina coast along the Waccamaw and Pee Dee rivers. Describing the inhabitants of the river valley as semi-nomadic, Girebillo noted that they relied on hunting and gathering, and limited agriculture. He wrote that the people practiced mortuary customs “peculiar” to them, but failed to describe their distinctive practices in any detail.

17th century
A little less than 150 years later, the Englishman William Hilton recorded his encounter with the Waccamaw Siouan people, calling them the ‘Woccon. In 1670, the German surveyor and physician John Lederer mentioned them in his Discoveries. By the beginning of the 17th century, the Woccon (Waccamaw), along with a number of Pee Dee River tribes, had been pushed north by a combination of Spanish and Cusabo forces. Some of the earliest English travelers to the interior of the Carolinas, John Lederer in 1670 and John Lawson some thirty years later, referred to the Waccamaw in their travel narratives as an Eastern Siouan people. They were repeating information from others; neither visited the area of wetlands where some of the Waccamaw were beginning to seek refuge from colonial incursions.

18th century
Settling around the confluence of the Waccamaw and Pee Dee Rivers, this amalgam of tribes had fragmented by 1705 to form a group of Woccon who moved farther north to the Lower Neuse River and Contentnea Creek. The first written mention of the Woccon (or Waccamaw) by English colonials was recorded in 1712. The South Carolina Colony tried to persuade the Waccamaw, along with the Cape Fear Indians, to join the son of the former British colonial governor of South Carolina, James Moore, in his expedition against the Tuscarora in the Tuscarora War.

In fact, the Woccon Indians, the Siouan tribe which John Lawson had placed a few miles to the south of the Tuscarora in his New Voyage to Carolina (1700), ceased to exist for British colonial administrators by that particular name. Having moved southward as a group, the Woccon became listed in colonial records as the Waccamaw. Since differing colonial powers could only approximate the sound of the names of numerous Southeastern indigenous polities, tribal names were often arbitrarily changed or altered in their spelling. Waccamaw, for example, appeared in the historical record at about the same time that “Woccon” disappeared.

The Waccamaw continued to inhabit the region along the Waccamaw and Pee Dee River until 1718, when they relocated to the Weenee, or Black River area. In 1720, they joined with fleeing families of Tuscarora, Cheraw, Keyauwee, and Hatteras Indians along Drowning Creek, now known as the Lumbee, or Lumber River. Families of Waccamaw Indians continued to live along Drowning Creek until 1733, when some families again sought refuge elsewhere—this time, along Lake Waccamaw and Green Swamp.

Historians and the Tuscarora Nation contend that most Tuscarora migrated to New York, where by 1722 they were accepted as the Sixth Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy or Haudenosaunee. The Tuscarora Nation says that any members who stayed behind were no longer considered to be members of the tribe.

By the second decade of the 18th century, many Waccamaw, also known as the Waccommassus, were located one hundred miles northeast of Charleston, South Carolina. In 1749, a war broke out between the Waccamaw and South Carolina Colony. By May 1778, the Council of South Carolina tried to offer the Waccamaw protection during the American Revolution, but their promises were found wanting in the chaos of war.

After the Waccamaw-South Carolina War, the Waccamaw sought refuge in the wetland region situated on the edge of Green Swamp, near Lake Waccamaw. They settled four miles north of present-day Bolton, North Carolina, along what is still known as the “Old Indian Trail.”

19th century
State land deeds and other colonial records substantiate the oral traditions of the Waccamaw Siouan Indians and their claim to the Green Swamp region. Given their three-century-long historical experience of European contact, the Waccamaw Siouan Indians had become highly acculturated. They depended on European-style agriculture and established claims to land through individual farmsteads.

In 1835, following Nat Turner’s slave rebellion, North Carolina passed laws restricting the rights and movements of free blacks. Because Native Americans were classified equally as “Free people of color,” the Waccamaw Siouan Indians and others were stripped of their political and civil rights. They could no longer vote, bear arms, or serve in the state militia. Local whites intensified harassment of the Waccamaw Siouan Indians after the ratification of North Carolina’s discriminatory state constitution.


Through much of the 19th century, Waccamaw Siouan children received no public school education. None existed in the South before the American Civil War. During Reconstruction, Republican-dominated legislatures established public schools, but legislators had to agree to racially segregated facilities to get them passed by the multi-racial coalitions. Having been free before the war, Waccamaw Siouan parents decided they did not want to enroll their children in school with the children of freedmen. The public schools had only two classifications: white and all other (black and mixed-race or “people of color”).

Late in the 19th century, the Croatan (now called Lumbee) managed to secure state recognition as Indians in North Carolina and establish a separate school. The Coharie tribes managed to build their own schools and later still, develop their own school system. The Waccamaw Siouans followed suit with the Doe Head School in 1885. The school, situated in the Buckhead Indian community, was open only sporadically. It closed in 1921, when the state sent a black teacher to the school, and the community asked the teacher to leave.

20th century
The first county-supported Indian school open to Waccamaw Siouans was called the “Wide Awake School.” The school was built in 19xx in the Buckhead community in Bladen County. Classes were taught by a Lumbee teacher, Welton Lowry. Waccamaw Siouan students who wished to attend high school among self-identified Indians went to the Coharie Indian community’s East Carolina High School in Clinton, North Carolina; the Lumbee Fairmont High School in Fairmont, Robeson County; or the Catawba Indian School in South Carolina.

The Waccamaw Siouan Indians received state recognition in 1971. They are working on documentation to gain federal recognition.

Relationship to other North Carolina Indian Tribes

Like most North Carolina Indian groups, the Waccamaw Siouan Indians have a long tradition of affiliation with other tribal nations. Kinship practices first observed in the colonial era continue through intermarriage with other tribes.

The occurrence of particular surnames found among the three groups: Campbell, Freeman, Jacobs,Patrick, Graham, Hammonds,Blanks, Hunt, Locklear, Moore, Strickland, Young, Bowen, Godwin, Lacewells, Daniels, Spauldings, and are common among the Lumbee, Coharie and Waccamaw Siouan Indians

Source: wikipedia.org

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