Pee Dee Indian Tribe
Pee Dee ~ Today
The Pee Dee Indian Tribe (PDIT) is a small American Indian tribe located along the Pee Dee River within northeastern South Carolina's Pee Dee region. While today the tribe consists of less than 150 enrolled Pee Dee, the tribe was once a profound cultural and political power in the region. In fact, the cultural & political significance of the Pee Dee people to the area is why Europeans named the Pee Dee River & the Pee Dee region of South Carolina after the tribe. The tribal government's offices are located on land awarded to the tribe in Marlboro County, South Carolina. Marlboro County has served as the tribe's official seat of government since 1976.
The tribal government's current constitution was adopted in 1976, & for more than 40 years has provided the tribal government with the ability to address some of the immense challenges faced by the Pee Dee people. The tribal government strives to empower the Pee Dee people through the continued practice of
cultural traditions, economic development efforts centered around strategic business &
community partnerships, as well as advocacy work aimed at educating public makers
regarding both national & regional American Indian issues. Though centuries of
oppression, slavery, disease and discrimination have significantly reduced the tribe's
population and influence, recent efforts by the tribal government to once again establish
the Pee Dee as a power in the region have proven fruitful. Expansion of the tribe's land,
as well as additional federal, state & tribal government services are two of the many ways
in which the tribal government has successfully worked toward achieving this goal.
PDIT is a proud member of the National Congress of American Indians. PDIT is also a member of the South Carolina Native American Affairs Commission which operates under the Government of South Carolina's Commission for Minority Affairs. Additionally, PDIT is an active member of numerous national & regional American Indian advocacy organizations & rights groups.
Farming has always been an extremely important aspect of Pee Dee existence & culture. Due to the significant & deeply sacred position that land & nature continue to hold within Pee Dee culture & society,
most Pee Dee live predominately rural lives that are heavily intertwined within the local
agriculture-based economy & community. However, in response to an ever evolving world
many Pee Dee have successfully sought economic & career opportunities that fall outside of
the tribe’s traditional agrarian roots. Apart from attending secondary educational institutions,
today many Pee Dee proudly contribute to the local community as educators, law enforcement
officers, nurses, artists & small business owners.
Frequent cultural, religious & administrative tribal events have allowed newer generations of Pee Dee to remain connected to their Pee Dee identity & culture, while simultaneously allowing them to pursue a vast array of exciting & new opportunities. Competing in stickball & chunkey, observing Busk, as well as storytelling, dancing, beading & cooking are just a few of the many cultural traditions continually practiced for generations by the Pee Dee people. PDIT recently initiated the Pee Dee Language Revitalization Program (PDLRP) aimed at teaching the Pee Dee language to all Pee Dee who wish to learn. The Pee Dee speak a dialect of Mvskoke. Additionally, the tribe began work on the Pee Dee Tribal Mounds in late 2017. Once completed, the Pee Dee Tribal Mounds will become the cultural, societal & spiritual mecca of the Pee Dee people.
Pee Dee ~ History
As a result of the collaborative work of tribal leaders, community volunteers & university researchers, extensive tribal archives were created in order to assist tribal efforts to protect & preserve the identity & culture of the Pee Dee people. Many of the records within the tribal archives were instrumental in helping PDIT illustrate a continued tribal & cultural presence in the area. The tribal archives include school records, census data, military records, tribal artifacts, photographs, maps, personal letters, church records, birth & death certificates, marriage licenses, as well as an extensive collection of official government documentation dating from present-day all the way back to the 16th Century in which multiple entities consistently refer to Pee Dee people as 'Indian', an "Indian Community" & an "Indian Tribe".
Early Pee Dee culture & society was politically complex. Pee Dee cultural & religious practices included the construction of mounds. Mounds were built for the elite, elaborate ceremonial practices were observed & a large amount of territory was presided over. In both northern South Carolina & southern North Carolina, the clearest expression of South Appalachian Mississippian tradition is the Pee Dee culture. The most obvious archaeological site relating to the Pee Dee people is the Town Creek Mounds, located on the Little River in Montgomery County, North Carolina.
In addition to being a major habitation spot, Town Creek served as a
place for discussion of matters important to the collective clans of
the tribe. Town Creek was the setting for significant religious
ceremonies & feasts, which often lasted several days. Additionally,
many socially high-ranking members of the tribe lived, died & are
buried there. The sacred site still holds great meaning to the Pee Dee.
Busk was an extremely important Pee Dee ceremony performed at Town Creek. In fact, even to this day the Pee Dee still perform an annual Busk ceremony on the tribe's current land in South Carolina. Traditionally during Busk, houses were cleaned & the temple & grounds were repaired. All fires were extinguished & all debts and grievances were resolved. People came from outlying villages & gathered at the ceremonial center for rituals of purification: ceremonial bathing, fasting, scratching the body with garfish teeth, & taking cathartic medicines. Everyone prepared to begin the new year with the eating of new corn at the conclusion of Busk. At the conclusion of Busk, visitors returned to their villages, carrying with them embers from the sacred fire with which to relight the hearths in their own homes. Sharing the fire symbolized unity among the Pee Dee, which is why the Pee Dee are still referred to as "the people of one fire". The tribe has continued this tradition & still maintains a "tribal firekeeper". It is a position of great respect & responsibility & is always held by a tribal elder.
Early Pee Dee participated in a widespread trade network that stretched from Georgia to South Carolina, Tennessee, & North Carolina. The Pee Dee once exercised great political & cultural influence in the Pee Dee River region of present-day North & South Carolina.
Early Pee Dee culture included the use of copper & shells. Additionally, beads, gorgets & pins were fashioned from conch shell. As evident at modern day tribal events, many Pee Dee continue to include a significant amount of copper, traditional beading & conch shells in both their event regalia & daily wear.
Around the middle of the 16th Century, the Pee Dee migrated from the Lower Pee Dee River of the Atlantic Coastal Plain to the Upper Pee Dee River of the Piedmont and remained there for about a century. This migration took place in an effort to avoid Spanish slave raids along South Carolina's coast. In 1567, Spanish 'explorers' encountered the Pee Dee village of Vehidi, located along the Pee Dee River.
In 1711, the Tuscarora War broke out in North Carolina. A year later, the Pee Dee, along with other tribes in the region, fought alongside the British against the Tuscarora. Pee Dee warriors served in British Captain John Bull's company, and the Pee Dee & British triumphed over the Tuscarora.
In 1715, English mapmakers recorded a Pee Dee village on the west band of the Pee Dee River's central course.
The Yamasee War began that same year. It lasted until 1717 & greatly diminished the Pee Dee's power & population. However, many survivors found refuge with the fellow Siouan-speaking Catawba, while others moved closer to English settlements.
In 1716, it was recorded that a Pee Dee named Tom West approached the South Carolina colonial government on behalf of the Cheraws to conciliate a peace with the colony.
In 1733, White Corn Johnny (a Pee Dee) was murdered by William Kemp (a white man) in South Carolina.
In 1737, the tribe petitioned the colony of South Carolina for a tract of land to live upon. A year later, the Pee Dee were moved onto a 100-acre tract of land (Coachman Reservation) located in what is now Dorchester County, South Carolina, along the Edisto River.
In 1741, South Carolina Lieutenant Governor William Bull granted commissions drawn up on parchment to several chiefs among the Catawba Nation, including Captain Twenty of the Pee Dee.
In 1742, Secretary of the Province John Hammerton is recorded as having commissioned two Pee Dee kings and a war captain for each. A commission was given to a “King Will of the Pee Dee over the Four Hole Swamp" and his commissioned Pee Dee war captain was "Johnny Chief". A "Billy Waites" was also commissioned as “King Billy of the Pee Dee over the Santee River" and his commissioned Pee Dee war captain was recorded as 'Billy'.
In 1743, a group of Pee Dee are recorded as having visited Charles Town, South Carolina and were awarded gifts by the town's council.
In 1744, the Pee Dee attacked & killed several Catawba. In retaliation, the Catawba drove many of the Pee Dee further towards English settlements.
In 1746, the Pee Dee are mentioned as a small tribe having a tense relationship with the Catawba. However, Governor Glen of South Carolina intervenes in order to prevent further bloodshed. The Pee Dee and Cheraw living within the Catawba Nation threatened to leave the Catawba Nation. South Carolina Governor John Glen holds a conference with the Pee Dee, Cheraw and Catawba. During the conference the Pee Dee agree to not leave the Catawba Nation, however the agreement is short-lived and the Pee Dee soon leave the Catawba Nation.
In 1751, at an inter-tribal conference in Albany, New York, the Pee Dee were recorded as being a small tribe predominately living near English settlements. During the conference it was requested that the Iroquois not war against the Pee Dee.
In 1752, King Hagler of the Catawba wrote South Carolina Governor Glen urging him to persuade the "great many Pee Dee" living near white settlements to join the Catawba.
In 1753, an unidentified Pee Dee is recorded as having been taken prisoner by "Northern Indians".
In 1755, South Carolina Governor John Glen informed King Haigler that South Carolina had convinced "some of the Pee Dee" to join the Catawba. Later that year, it was recorded that several Cherokee & Natchez had killed multiple Pee Dee living near white settlements. Additionally, in 1755 about "Northern Indians" are recorded as having killed two Pee Dee women near Goose Creek, South Carolina and kidnapped two Pee Dee boys.
In 1755, Lewis Jones is recorded as being Chief of the Pee Dee.
1n 1756, South Carolina Governor Glen wrote King Hagler a letter stating that he was aware of King Hagler's letter to Billy Waites, a "Pee Dee Indian in this government" in which King Hagler denies any Catawba involvement in the 1755 killing of the two Pee Dee women and the kidnapping of the two Pee Dee boys.
In 1760, Pee Dee Chief King John exchanged gunfire with a Pee Dee man named Prince. Prince had been appointed Chief of the Pee Dee by South Carolina Governor Lyttelton. Neither Chief King John nor Prince were injured.
In 1775, 50 Pee Dee warriors fought in the infamous "Raccoon Company" under Captain John Alston in the U.S. Revolutionary War.
Through much of the 19th & 20th Centuries, the tribe has determinedly managed to maintain a continual presence in the area. During the last two centuries most of the Pee Dee worked as sharecroppers for white landowners that came to own the very land the tribe had once controlled. In a continued effort to suppress the rights of the Pee Dee people, each election day white landowners would load up every male Pee Dee sharecropper of voting age in the back of a large horse drawn wagon that would take them to the nearest polling site. The white landowners would instruct the Pee Dee men on who to vote for. If a Pee Dee man decided to vote differently from how he was instructed, he & his entire family were thrown off of the land they farmed. Blatant political, economic, judicial & cultural oppression against the Pee Dee people was a constant part of everyday life during the 19th & 20th Centuries. Many of the ramifications resulting from these oppressive actions can still be felt quite profoundly throughout Pee Dee society today.
Due to segregation & Jim Crow laws, the Sardis Indian School was
founded in 1885 for Pee Dee children in Dillon County.
Additionally, the Leland Grove School for Indians was founded
in 1934 for Pee Dee & Lumbee children living in the area. It
continued to operate until 1976, shortly after South Carolina's public
schools were desegregated. On the few occasions in which Pee Dee
children were allowed to attend "white schools", Pee Dee students
were forced to sit at the back of the classroom. Only after all of the
white students had been served lunch were the Pee Dee students
served. Pee Dee students also had to stay in the cafeteria after lunch
and clean up while the white students went back to class to receive academic instruction.
In 1892, the Pee Dee Chapel was founded. The Pee Dee Chapel,
Leland Grove Church, & several other "Indian churches" in the
region, allowed the Pee Dee to continue holding cultural events &
Pee Dee gatherings outside of the public eye. Under the stewardship
of Pee Dee elders, churches played a significant role in not only
keeping tribal members connected with one another, but also allowed
tribal members to maintain their Pee Dee identity. A great many
tribal members are buried at the Pee Dee Chapel burial grounds, as
well as the Leland Grove Church burial grounds. To this day, both
religious institutions still hold two weekly sermons.
During the Tribal Convention of 1976, the Government of the Pee Dee Indian Tribe officially adopted its current constitution. Its fundamental principles & outlined beliefs have guided all aspects of the tribal government's operations for nearly half a century.
In 1979, Pee Dee Chief Homer Campbell met with Catawba Chief Albert Blue,
as well as several other chiefs in the region at the Office of the South Carolina
Governor, to discuss the state's unemployed and economically disadvantaged
American Indian population.
During the early 1980s, Vice-Chief Stump Hunt led the charge to
document through imagery the everyday experiences of the Pee Dee
people in an effort to capture & preserve what Pee Dee society was like
during that period. The tribal government's collaboration with
photographer Gene Crediford has provided the tribe with invaluable
images of late 20th Century Pee Dee society.
National and regional advocacy regarding American Indian rights has been an important part of the PDIT Government's mission for decades. The Government of the Pee Dee Indian Tribe routinely sends tribal government representatives to Washington D.C. to advocate for not only the Pee Dee people, but for all American Indians. In 2017, PDIT representatives participated in the Longest Walk. The annual event was organized by AIM co-founder Dennis Banks. The event raised awareness regarding domestic violence & addiction within the American Indian community. In 2019, PDIT representatives participated in the Indigenous Peoples March.
In 2018, the Tribal Council of the Pee Dee Indian Tribe voted to ban
alcohol & concealable weapons from all tribal land & event that fall
under the jurisdiction of the Government of the Pee Dee Indian
Tribe. While the alcohol ban had been an "unspoken rule" since the
mid-1970s, the PDIT Tribal Council decided to officially vote the
ban into place due to the number of non-tribal members who were
expected to attend future tribal events aimed at building &
strengthening relationships between the tribe & various external organizations.
The PDIT Government sent tribal representatives to the 2019 Justice First Press Conference and Congressional Briefings at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. The conference focused on raising awareness about the need to center justice in energy equity and sustainability conversations. Additionally, building power in local communities; addressing systemic racism; advancing nuclear harm reduction efforts; and building solidarity with other minority communities were key aspects of the conference. The information gained and the relationships forged during national events such as this allow the PDIT Government to work toward creating programs and accessing resources that are aimed at improving the quality of life for the Pee Dee people.
Later in 2019, PDIT government officials were honored to speak about the tribe's deep
cultural, economic & spiritual ties to the environment during a global environmental
summit in Atlanta, GA focused on the disproportionate impact that environmental
issues have on low-income minority communities. Former United States Vice-President
Al Gore was among those in attendance.
In a continued effort to promote environmental stewardship, the Government of the Pee Dee Indian Tribe also began a collaborative forest preservation project with DWA in 2019. Along with DWA resources & expertise, the project utilizes federal grant funds to aid in PDIT's conservation efforts.
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