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Catawba Indian Nation, South Carolina

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Chief Red Thunder Cloud, cited as the last Native speaker of the Catawba Indian language and praised as a preservationist of the tribe's culture was not Catawba at all, a Smithsonian Institution linguist says. He died in 1996, had Rhode Island and Maryland forebears and not the South Carolina tribal roots he claimed, said Ives Goddard, who runs the Smithsonian ethnology department. Still, he said, Red Thunder Cloud contributed to understanding and protecting Native cultures, particularly the Catawba language, which tribal leaders have been struggling to preserve. "... I wouldn't pass judgment on the guy," Wes Taukchiray, an expert on Catawba history and genealogy, said. Goddard's research did not change the image of the man ... who corrected his Catawba pronunciations. "What I'm interested in is that he learned how to speak the Catawba language conversationally. I'm not really concerned about his ethnic origin." Goddard said Red Thunder Cloud's true maternal grandfather was William Ashbie Hawkins, one of Baltimore's first black lawyers. His father was a druggist named Cromwell West from Newport, R.I. At the time of Red Thunder Cloud's death in Massachusetts, Foxx Ayers, a friend and a member of the tribe's executive committee, said he was not an official member of the tribe although he had visited its reservation several times.