Former chief continues work on issues in South Carolina

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AYNOR, S.C. – Outgoing Waccamaw Chief Harold Hatcher wants to continue working on American Indian issues in South Carolina. “I’d like to work on statewide issues,” he said in an interview during the Waccamaw’s 14th annual pow wow.

Hatcher, otherwise known as “Buster,” led the Waccamaws for 14 years, taking them out of obscurity to recognition as tribe by the state. He did not run for re-election in October because he wanted to devote his time to statewide American Indian issues.

He explained, “Up to this pow wow, if this grass got cut, I would be the one worrying about getting it cut. If that building had water in it, I had to be the one making sure the water was there. That kind of stuff, I don’t want to do anymore. I’ve got to step away from it.

“I have worked hard for 14 years and I learned a lot. And I think I can help the Indians in this state, if I can get the opportunity to work with the governors to do it.”

During a ceremony in the circle, Hatcher relinquished the Waccamaw symbols of leadership: the war bonnet, peace pipe and spear. The following day in a similar ceremony, Hartland “Tubby” West received the items to install him as the new chief.

In an interview, Hatcher said his greatest accomplishment was getting the Waccamaws recognized by the state’s Commission for Minority Affairs. “When they did the Commission for Minority Affairs, I think it was in 1976, they didn’t even include Indians,” Hatcher recalled.

Under a recent state law, the commission accepted American Indians; and within the last two years it permitted nine tribes, groups and organizations to be recognized. Waccamaws were the first. “So we made some progress,” Hatcher said.

In 2005, Hatcher received a commendation from the state Legislature for his contribution to the state’s recognition of Indian organizations.

“State recognition should be a tool, and not an end result,” he added. “In the economy of South Carolina, Indians are not treated right. According to their statistics, the South Carolina statistical abstract, Indians earn 37 percent less than white men doing the same jobs, [with] the same education level.

“Something is wrong with that. So we could use the recognition as a tool to make the government enact laws to protect our people, too.”

He also wants to help his tribe become federally recognized. “We will be putting in a federal petition here probably in about three years,” he said. “We have done a lot of research, but we have not submitted it, because of George Bush. He says, there ain’t gonna be any more Indians while he’s there. We’ve got to get him out of there.”

Hatcher was first elected in 1990 and served for two years. He was elected to three four-year terms since, making a total of 14 years that he led his people.

He was retired from the Army in 1988. “Back in those days, they had that Affirmative Action program going on,” he said. “I bought a company. I wanted to get an advantage for my company so I tried to register as a minority owned company. And they would not let you as an Indian in South Carolina, because they said they did not have any Indians. They said, ‘You’ve got to go to North Carolina to be an Indian.’”