The Catawba Indian Nation is the only federally recognized Indian tribe in the state of South Carolina. The Catawba Nation and the 563 federally recognized tribes gathered in Washington, D.C. Thursday as President Barack Obama held the first ever American Indian Summit. Catawba Indian Nation Chief Donald Rogers, whose Catawba name is Red Cloud, got the opportunity to shake hands and meet with the president. Rogers says the president delivered an impassioned speech to the gathering.
“He is committed, he said, ‘I will never forget you as long as I’m in office; you will not be our forgotten people.’ And with that it tests us, because a lot of people do call us the forgotten people,” Rogers said.
Rogers says one of the main issues of the Indian tribes is the true recognition of their sovereignty as nations within this country. Rogers says the President showed his sincerity and respect for the federally recognized Indian tribes not just through his words, but also through the appointment of several influential Native Americans to his Cabinet.
“Kim Teehee, Jodi Jowlett, they are all working in the White House offices with him, they’re his contact there. You have Larry EchoHawk, who is the assistant secretary of the interior, his main job is the Bureau of Indian Affairs, he is a Native American,” Rogers said.
Rogers says one of the most important issues discussed at the summit is the recognition of the sovereignty of the Indian nations by the federal and state governments.
“Why is it not recognized that when a person violates a tribal law and they are not from that reservation that they go to a state court and it gets thrown out? Why is that? And that was the biggest issue that states do not recognize the sovereignty of Indian tribes. Which is one of the issues that many people agree here, in South Carolina. Were technically, shouldn’t be a sovereign nation, but the state does hold a lot of accord over us because of the agreement of 1993,” says Rogers.
Rogers says he is working to obtain sovereignty in the state of South Carolina in order for the Catawba Nation to handle a number of their own legal matters that occur on their reservation located in York County.
That includes, he says, the jurisdiction over the tribe’s children. Rogers says by federal regulation the Department of Social Services must work with the Catawba’s ICWA (pronounced ick-wah) worker. ICWA stands for Indian Child Welfare Act. Rogers says according to the act in the case of the Catawba or any federally recognized tribe, if a child of the tribe is taking into custody by the Department of Social Services, that agency must give up custody to that child to the ICWA worker. Rogers says there are judges in parts of South Carolina that have a problem with this federal law.