Learn about Cheraw tribe at festival

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It took more than two centuries for the Sumter Tribe of Cheraw Indians to receive official status as a Native American tribe, and on Saturday, the tribal council and members will share their heritage with the community. The 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sumter Native American Indian Festival will be presented at the Sumter County Museum.

The program is just the second since South Carolina granted official recognition to the tribe in November 2013. Tribal Council member Ansley Ray said that, like the 2014 festival, Saturday's festival will serve two purposes: to celebrate the tribe's culture and history and "to bring a little bit of its Native American culture into Sumter County."

Ray said there are about 275 Cheraw Indians, "plus a lot more that haven't yet embraced their heritage. For a long time, we believed we were of Turkish heritage."

Recognized as neither white nor black, the families now known to be Native American lived outside of Sumter in a separate community, he said.

Through extensive research, mainly through census records, the Cheraw Indians were able to establish their native heritage from the late 18th century. Documentation and a petition submitted to the South Carolina Department of Minority Affairs resulted in their official recognition. More of the tribe's history will be discussed during the festival's presentations in the McKenzie Hall Heritage Education Center.

The festival will open with a prayer and smudging by George Truesdale, vice chief of the Cheraw Indians. Ray explained that smudging is a traditional Native American ceremony comprising the burning of "dried sage to clear the festival proper of any bad spirits."

Outdoor activities, he said, will include "native dancing in full regalia by Cheraw tribe members Doug Carter and Howie Collum, and dancing and drumming by the Edisto River Singers." There will also be crafts for the children taught by tribal members.

"We'll have a 'make-and-take' for the children," Ray said. "They can make such items as turtle purses, necklaces and other native crafts."

Vendors of native crafts and jewelry will be on site throughout the festival, as will a food truck with Native American dishes. There will also be some native crafts for sale."

Festival goers will also be able to enter a raffle for Native American gifts.

Inside McKenzie Hall Heritage Education Center, visitors to the festival can learn more about the history of Native Americans though presentations by Chief Buster Hatcher of the Waccamaw Indians. Hatcher, who lives in the Conway-Myrtle Beach area, will speak on "Native Americans in South Carolina," focusing on their culture "before the Europeans got here."

Linwood Collins of the Sumter Tribe of Cheraw Indians will present some of his native and tribe artifacts, and Pony Hill, also of the Sumter Tribe, will speak on the origins of the tribe. Hill will discuss some of the apocryphal stories about the tribe's beginnings, one including the now debunked belief that the people were "Turks of Moorish descent who had escaped from pirate ships off the coast."

"We didn't know who we were until about 10 years ago," Ray said. "We're trying to learn more of our culture and get it back."

The public is invited to attend the Sumter Native American Festival presented by the Sumter Tribe of Cheraw Indians from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Sumter County Museum, 122 N. Washington St.

Support for the festival is provided by the museum and a grant from the Sumter County Cultural Commission, which receives support from the John and Susan Bennett Arts Fund of the Coastal Community Foundation, the South Carolina Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts.