Copyright notice

This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

Average: 3.8 (38 votes)

Waccamaw Indians

by William G. DiNome, 2006

Waccamaw Powwow. Image courtesy of Flickr user The Life of Bryan, uploaded on October 20, 2007. The Waccamaw Indians were a Siouan-speaking tribe, probably related to the so-called Cape Fear Indians, who populated parts of modern-day southeastern North Carolina. At the time of the first English settlement attempts in the late sixteenth century, the Waccamaw were among several small, autonomous tribal groups ("eastern Siouans") whose territory and hunting grounds extended from just south of the Neuse River down the coast to the lower Cape Fear and inland to Green Swamp and the junction of the Pee Dee and Waccamaw Rivers. They are thought to have been seminomadic river-dwellers who subsisted on hunting and some farming, often on high-ground "islands" within swamps. They lived in dome-shaped bark houses, practiced shamanism, and exhibited distinctive mortuary customs.

The Waccamaw's relationship with European settlers was based on trade (including guns and slaves), alliances, aid, and friendship, yet was all the while marred by European-borne disease, displacement due to European settlement, hostility, and outright warfare. The Tuscarora War (1711-13) and the Yamassee War (1715), in which the Waccamaw fought against the settlers, critically reduced the the tribe's numbers and strength and evidently resulted in their retreat to the isolated swamps near Lake Waccamaw for protection. Some settled with the Catawba, a Siouan tribe to the west. History records practically nothing of the Waccamaw through the remaining eighteenth century until 1790, when the U.S. Census recorded common Waccamaw surnames among inhabitants living in small, isolated communities.

In 1910 the Waccamaw's earliest known governmental body was created, the Council of the Wide Awake Indians, whose primary objective was twofold: to obtain public funding for Indian schools and, later, to attain federal recognition. The council's educational efforts resulted in the opening of the first publicly funded Waccamaw school in 1933, with more to follow; however, these Indian schools were notoriously ill-funded, fueling the council's campaign for federal recognition beginning around 1940. Ultimately the Indian-only schools were dissolved, along with segregation, in 1967. The first official use of the name "Waccamaw Siouan" (the third name officially adopted by the tribe since 1913) appeared in print in 1949, when a bill to grant the Waccamaw federal recognition was introduced in Congress. The bill was defeated the following year. Since then the tribe has focused its efforts on economic development and self-sufficiency. During the 1960s and 1970s, changes in federal policies regarding public funding and economic assistance allowed the Waccamaw and other tribal groups to benefit from several government programs without federal recognition.

Members of the modern-day Waccamaw Siouan tribe are concentrated near Lake Waccamaw in southeastern North Carolina. Most of the approximately 1,500 Waccamaws live in three major communities: Ricefield (Bladen County), Saint James (Columbus County), and Buckhead (straddling the Bladen-Columbus county line). Though not officially recognized by the federal government, they are one of the tribes recognized since 1971 by the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs (which Waccamaws and other tribal leaders helped to form the year before).They are closely related by religious denomination, politics, and, to a small degree, intermarriage (they are largely endogamous) to two other Indian groups, the Lumbee and Coharie. The Waccamaw are predominantly Christian and, among the Christians, overwhelmingly Baptist.

Tribal leadership is provided by the Waccamaw Siouan Development Association (WSDA), a nonprofit group founded in 1972. It consists of a nine-member board of directors, elected by secret ballot open to all tribal members over age 18, plus a chief, whose political role, beyond advising the board, is largely symbolic. In designing the WSDA as an agency for economic development, the Waccamaw pioneered a strategy for both self-determination and the articulation of their Indian identity that has achieved some substantial successes since 1978 and has been imitated by other unrecognized tribes in the state. Today most working Waccamaws are employed in the construction, forest and paper, and apparel industries. About 6 percent are full-time farmers. While the Waccamaw do not occupy a reservation, the WSDA owns a small tract as tribal land and a community building for governmental and ceremonial activities.

With community Indian schools eliminated and federal recognition dubious, the introduction of the powwow festival in the 1960s has become a central focus of Waccamaw activity. Held annually in October, the Waccamaw powwow resembles that of many other Indian groups around the nation and plays a central role in articulating Waccamaw identity.

References:

Patricia Barker Lerch, "State-Recognized Indians of North Carolina, Including a History of the Waccamaw Sioux," in J. Anthony Paredes, ed., Indians of the Southeastern United States in the Twentieth Century (1992).

Ruth Y. Wetmore, First on the Land: The North Carolina Indians (1975).

Additional Resources:

The Waccamaw Siouan Tribe: www.waccamaw-siouan.com/

Image Credit:

Waccamaw Powwow. Image courtesy of Flickr user The Life of Bryan, uploaded on October 20, 2007. Available from http://www.flickr.com/photos/thelifeofbryan/1662598371/ (accessed May 22, 2012).

Origin - location: 

Comments

Comment: 

What is there religion? What roles do the women and men have? And lastly what do they eat?

Comment: 

Hi Carson,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and for sharing your questions.

According to the NCpedia article, the Waccamaw people practiced a shamanistic religion prior to the time of European contact. 

Are you interested in finding information about the contemporary culture of the Waccamaw people or are you looking for more historical information? Please feel free to post back here with more specifics and that will help us locate information that might be the most useful for you.

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library

Comment: 

What is there house made of?

Comment: 

Hello -- thank you for visiting NCpedia and sharing this question.

That's a very good question. At the time of European contact, the Waccamaw are believed to have lived in dome shaped dwellings, and according to this article they were made of bark.

You may also be interested in the resources included with the article, for more information.  You'll see them above, just below the article text.

You may also be interested in this NCpedia collection on American Indian heritage and history and the state's historical and contemporary tribes: https://www.ncpedia.org/exploring-north-carolina-native

I hope this helps! Please let us know if you have additional questions.

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan, Government & Heritage Library

Comment: 

is threre a myth for waccamaw tribe? if there is plz reply to this

Comment: 

Hi, Emilee.

According to an article in LEARN NC, the Waccamaw name itself points to an origin myth:

"It is reasonable to believe that “Waccamaw” is an English translation of a part of the phrase that told of the ball of fire that knocked into the earth and created the lake known today as Lake Waccamaw. The natural conclusion, substantiated by these theories, is that the Waccamaw are the 'People of the Falling Star.'"

You can access the article here: http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/nc-american-indians/7288

Thank you.

Mike Millner, NC Government & Heritage Library

Comment: 

DO THEY GET THERE FOOD FROM HUNTERS GATHERERS OR FARMERS?!

Comment: 

What language did the Waccamaw speak?

Comment: 

Hello.

Thank you for your question. The Waccamaw spoke a language in the Siouan-Catawban family of languages. You can find a list of these related languages at https://www.britannica.com/topic/Siouan-languages. I hope you find this helpful.

Mike Millner, Government & Heritage Library

Comment: 

Seeking information about the area near Mangum Rd, Evergreen/Boardman area. This was once a farm owned by the Shaw family, I believe owned by the Mangum family now. In the middle 1800s, the census records for several decades indicate the neighbors(same page) of the Shaw family were Powell's. Wondering where they lived in relation to this farm on Mangum Rd and where these Powell's came from. They are the earliest trace of my family that I can find. Any help along the journey to discover more about them is greatly appreciated.

Add a comment

PLEASE NOTE: NCpedia will not publish personal contact information in comments, questions, or responses. If you would like a reply by email, please note thats some email servers are blocked from accepting messages from outside email servers or domains. These often include student email addresses from public school email accounts. If you prefer not to leave an email address, check back at your NCpedia comment for a reply. Please allow one business day for replies from NCpedia. Complete guidelines are available at http://ncpedia.org/comments.