CLEVELAND COUNTY, SC (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) - The Catawba Indian Reservation is made up of two large pieces of land in York County. Hundreds of people reside there, and the tribe itself claims a membership in the thousands.
The storied history of the tribe also includes efforts over the years for land to settle on and be claimed, for federal recognition as a Native American tribe, and--most recently--efforts to expand and become an economic powerhouse.
"We've been working on this for about six years," said Chief Bill Harris of the Catawba Indian Nation.
What Harris said is partially true. The tribe set forth an effort to requst land across the state line in Cleveland County in 2013, in an effort to build a casino and resort, but discussions on the possiblity of gaming within the Tribe have been an ongoing discussion since 1993. The request is still in legal limbo.
Last week, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina drafted legislation, with the support of both U.S. Senators in North Carolina, to essentially streamline the process for the Catawba tribe to get the Cleveland County land.
"What's it going to mean for Catawba? It's going to be a game-changer, for sure," said Harris. "But it would also be a game-changer for Clevleand County."
The effort to get the land has not come without opposition.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, which operates two casinos on tribal land in the mountains of western North Carolina, said the Catawba tribe's efforts represented nothing more than a "land grab."
Their statement in full, from Chief Richard Sneed:
“The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ (EBCI) centuries-long North Carolina tradition has created a lasting partnership with the state to provide a strong future for generations through health care, education and business. While the tribe respects and encourages progress for other Native American communities, including South Carolina’s Catawba Indian Nation, the recent filing of a bill in the US Senate to give North Carolina land to the South Carolina tribe for an off-reservation casino is nothing more than a modern day land grab by the federal government of Cherokee aboriginal lands. This action circumvents the existing process for the Catawba Indian Nation to acquire lands in South Carolina, is unprecedented in US history, and a federal government bully tactic that should not be part of modern governing. We encourage the Catawba Indian Nation to go through the same process in their home state of South Carolina that the EBCI did in North Carolina to build their business – to develop their on-reservation economy as it should be - in their community. Doing it the right way will ensure they are able to take care of their members and support their local community as we’ve done for years in North Carolina.”
Harris noted the Cherokee tribe's claims don't extend to Cleveland County, which they claim as their ancestral land. As part of a settlement deal with the federal government, Harris said the Catawba tribe has the right to request land from six North Carolina counties--among them, Cleveland.
"When you think back to the Battle of Kings Mountain, Catawba were the scouts for those revolutionaries," said Harris.
Despite the opposition, Harris said he wants to work with the Cherokee tribe and even replicate their success. He said it would also bring thousands of jobs and economic development.
Harris said they had made efforts to get gaming on their current land in York County, but have faced consistent opposition due to state laws, particularly dealing with video poker machines.