‘We are still here’: Berkeley Co. Wassamasaw Tribe asks for federal recognition

Published: Aug. 11, 2023 at 5:00 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 12, 2023 at 5:46 AM EDT
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MONCKS CORNER, S.C. (WCSC) - The Wassamasaw Tribe of Varnertown Indians, an indigenous group located in the Lowcountry, recently stepped forward to ask for federal recognition.

Tribe members say this nationwide title could help preserve their heritage and history for years to come.

“We’ve contributed throughout history and have made an indelible mark,” Tribal Chief Lisa Collins says. “These were our lands from colonial contact and we’re still here. We need that assistance to preserve our community. We don’t see where we have been pushed and settled being here in another 30 years.”

H.R. 5083, a bill introduced to Congress on July 28 by U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace, requested recognition for the tribe.

The group has also received countless support from Lowcountry community officials.

The Wassamasaw Tribe in Berkeley County has been a long-standing indigenous group, established in the late 1500s along with 19 other Native American tribes along the South Carolina Coast.

They are a “settlement” tribe, their existing community formed by Cherokee, Catawba, Edisto and Etiwan Native Americans.

The community says this is one of the reasons they have been able to remain a strong group for as long as they have.

They say with growth and development in the surrounding areas, the chance of this could change.

“It’s really scary for us, because we have to worry about if we’re still going to be here, 50 years from now,” Vice Chief Heidi Varner-Seabrook says. “I don’t think many have to worry about that.”

“We are losing a lot of land base. And it’s not just us. It is a state-wide issue,” Collins says.

This tribe was recognized on the state level back in 2005, but they say a federal title would give them the resources they need to help preserve their heritage and history.

Tribal members say their contribution to the Lowcountry has been immense and it is something they want to keep going.

The Wassamasaw Tribe says one big answer of preserving their cultural identity is through education and awareness.

They appreciate when community members come forward to ask questions and learn more about their culture.

“We are part of South Carolina history, and Sotuh Carolina is part of us,” Varner-Seabrook says.