By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The Catawba Indian Nation is seeking a casino near Kings Mountain, and a recent Senate bill would help pave the way for them to open up for business. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced S.790 on Wednesday, March 13 that he hopes will “clarify” language included in the 1993 Catawba Indian Land Claims Settlement Act and authorize the Department of the Interior to act upon their land-into-trust application from several years ago. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, but no hearings have been scheduled yet.
The Catawba have proposed a gaming resort in Cleveland County that Sen. Graham claims would create more than 4,000 jobs in the area. “The Catawba Nation has been treated unfairly by the federal government, and our legislation rights that wrong,” he said in a statement. “I hope this legislation will be quickly passed through the Congress and signed into law so we can once and for all bring resolution to this issue.”
Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed is staunchly opposed to the legislation and said, “The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ (EBCI) centuries-long North Carolina tradition has created a lasting partnership with the state to provide a strong future for generations through health care, education, and business. While the Tribe respects and encourages progress for other Native American communities, including South Carolina’s Catawba Indian Nation, the recent filing of a bill in the U.S. Senate to give North Carolina land to the South Carolina tribe for an off-reservation casino is nothing more than a modern-day land-grab by the federal government of Cherokee aboriginal lands.”
He added, “This action circumvents the existing process for the Catawba Indian Nation to acquire lands in South Carolina, is unprecedented in U.S. history, and is a federal government bully-tactic that should not be part of modern government. We encourage the Catawba Indian Nation to go through the same process in their home state of South Carolina that the EBCI did in North Carolina to build their business – to develop their on-reservation economy as it should be – in their community. Doing it the right way will ensure they are able to take care of their members and support their local community as we’ve done for years in North Carolina.”
North Carolina Senators Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) were co-sponsors on the bill. A spokesperson for Sen. Burr’s noted that he signed onto the bill because it provides much needed clarification around language in the 1993 Catawba Indian Land Claims Settlement Act that has since remained unclear.
Catawba Indian Nation Chief William Harris told the One Feather, “Like most tribes, the Catawba people have suffered from poverty for many years. Our gaming operation in Kings Mountain, North Carolina will create up to 4,000 jobs, and not only provide much needed employment for our people, but also for residents of Cleveland County. Notably, Kings Mountain is the site of a very famous Revolutionary War battle where Catawba scouts made the difference in favor of the American revolutionaries. Congress expressly provided that this area would be part of our federal service area, recognizing its significance and our long occupancy in these parts of North Carolina.”
He went on to say, “It is our hope that both the Catawba and Cherokee tribes will benefit from this project. We have reached out many times to discuss this with Cherokee leadership, but so far they have shown no interest. Despite this, we hope one day to speak with our Cherokee brothers and sisters about ways we can work together. As to the past difficulties, I think all Indian nations understand the challenges all our tribes have faced. We look forward to a brighter future.”
There is local support in Cleveland County for the Catawba’s casino bid. The Cleveland County Board of Commissioners said in a joint statement, “Should this project move forward, the Cleveland County Board of Commissioners welcomes the opportunity to build relationships with the Catawba Indian Nation. We will work diligently with tribal leaders to ensure that the residents of Cleveland County will have access to new jobs that will be created; that the county will benefit from the economic growth that a project of this magnitude will generate; and that any decisions to be made are in the best interest of the people we serve.”
From the Catawba’s tribal website, “The Catawba Indians have lived on their ancestral lands along the banks of the Catawba River dating back at least 6,000 years. Before contact with the Europeans, it is believed that the nation inhabited most of the piedmont area of South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia.”
A request for comment from Sen. Tillis’ office went unanswered by press time.