ALERT -- Sewer Line Blunder

Cultural -- Historical -- Environmental Disaster
Proposed by Catawba Nation's Executive Committee

     Rock Hill, South Carolina  USA    

by Thomas J. Blumer, Ph.D.

On September 10, 2000, the Catawba Nation's Executive Committee cavalierly and without General Council discussion or approval announced a sewer treatment plan which threatens the heart and soul of the Catawba people. The huge plant, if the project is realized, will treat up to 80 million gallons of waste water per day. The access pipe line from Charlotte, North Carolina, to the plant will run through Nisbet Bottoms across the river from the reservation. Unfortunately Nisbet Bottoms is a key religious, cultural and historical site for the Catawba Nation. So sensitive is this project that the Executive Committee kept its plan secret until September 10th. In effect the sewer treatment plant is yet another land grab, this time aimed at the soul of the Catawba Nation. This time the Catawba leaders have sold out for a dollar amount, an amount which the rank and file tribal members will never see if this government is true to its reputation. Ironically, the position of these same leaders is being challenged in Federal Court. Their elected terms have expired, and they remain in office in violation of the Catawba Constitution.

The Catawba Cultural Preservation Project (CCPP) was apparently not apprised of the sewer line proposal. This was not necessary because the CCPP is apparently in full agreement with this crime against Catawba history and culture. Tribal members are aware that this lack of action on the part of the CCPP is in direct violation of the Project's goals. In line with this de facto approval, the tribe's official archaeologist, one who is charged with protecting historical sites located beneath the surface, has remained silent. No protest concerning this proposed crime against two or more major Catawba archaeological sites has been made. In addition, the tribe's Natural Resources Department was never informed of the proposal until members read of it in the local papers on September 10th. Now Executive Committee members tell Natural Resources not to be concerned with the pipe line since it is a "done deed." Natural Resources is apparently to ignore its mandate to protect the environment along the Catawba River. The tribe's medicine man, also appointed by these leaders, has had nothing to say about this proposed crime against the Catawba people.

Just what of importance to the Catawba Indians of South Carolina stands in the path of destruction?

ONE: The ancient Catawba clay holes lie in the construction path. The Catawba pottery tradition is the oldest in the Northern Hemisphere. Archaeologists believe it can be traced back to the Woodland Period in South Carolina, 2,400 B.C. The clay in the Nisbet Bottoms has long been held sacred by the potters. The Indians commonly call it "gold." The truth is the Catawba Indians survived spiritually, artistically and economically from the time of the American Revolution to the early 1940s through the production of their pottery. To destroy these ancient clay holes is to destroy the Catawba Nation's spiritual and cultural base.

TWO: The last Catawba village site before the infamous Treaty of 1840 was signed lies in the construction path. It is a well-known fact that such a site cannot be disturbed by law without extensive archaeological investigation. Such an investigation would naturally be led by the tribe's archaeologist who currently refuses to discuss her role in preserving the historical record hidden beneath the surface of the Nisbet Bottoms. The sewer line plan calls for the simple destruction of this and other sites. Not one word has been said about salvage.

THREE: The site of the most important Catawba Indian cemetery lies in the construction path. This burial place was already ancient when the Treaty of Pine Tree Hill was signed (1760). Tribal members were buried there until the 1860s. It contains the remains of numerous Catawba personalities of great historical importance. Those interred there include Kings Hagler and Frow; Generals New River, Jacob Ayers and William Harris, and the famed Sallie New River; War Captains James Bullen, Red Tick, Pine Tree George, Lewis Canty and John Nettles to name only a few. The Executive Committee's plan makes no mention of the legal protections provided to these and other graves. The excavation path is vast, and no estimate has been made regarding the cost of moving graves in the sewer line path.

FOUR: The site of the ancient Catawba ceremonial stomp grounds including the stick ball field lie in the construction path. For centuries the Sacred Fire burned in this area until it was extinguished probably for the last time in the early 19th century. Of recent years a traditionalist group of Catawba Indians has worked to call up the Sacred Fire again. This act will revive the full Southern Cult cycle for the Catawba. To desecrate this area, a reality which will happen should the project be approved, will be a fatal blow to Catawba spirituality. The construction of this pipe line through Nisbet Bottoms would constitute a crime against Native American religion.

In short, the proposed pipe line threatens to destroy the Catawba as a distinct people.

Why has the Executive Committee has made this proposal? Why the secrecy? The entire Executive Committee is aware of the crimes they propose committing against Catawba history and culture. The answer to the mystery is simple, money. One Executive Committee member has been proudly telling any and all who will listen about how wealthy the Executive Committee members will be become. According to current estimates, this project will cost about 200 million dollars. The financial fallout to the Executive Committee and the tribe's top administrators promises to be great.

The Catawba people await explanations regarding this planned sewer line. There is no doubt the current direction the line will take constitutes a major crime against Catawba history and culture. Can the treasured and sacred Nisbet Bottoms be protected against a sewage spill? At the moment, the answer is a resounding, "of course not."




Senator Daniel Inouye
U. S. Senate
722 Hart Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-1100
Internet contact form --    
Representative John Spratt
U. S. House of Representatives
1536 Longworth
Washington, D.C. 20515
Senator Robert Wesley Hayes, Jr.
S.C. Senate
Post Office Box 904
Rock Hill, South Carolina 29731

Please visit the Garris Reaction page to read the letter posted by Ms. Beckee Garris to the e-mail site SCTAN in reaction to this article.