Written By Jonathan Martin

The Waccamaw inhabited the southeastern section of present-day North Carolina, living along the Cape Fear, Pee Dee, and Waccamaw Rivers. As a water-focused tribe, the Waccamaw were probably “seminomadic river-dwellers who subsisted on hunting and some farming” according to William G. DiNome. Like most other Native American tribes, the arrival of European settlers brought destruction to the Waccamaw.

At the beginning of the Native American-European contact, trade between the two flourished, but war and disease devastated the Waccamaw. The Tuscarora War that lasted from 1711 until 1713 and the Yamassee War of 1715 forced the tribe to retreat to Lake Waccamaw.  Meanwhile, the western Catawba tribe adopted some Waccamaw. After the Indian wars, the Waccamaw remained in obscurity until tribal surnames appeared on the 1790 U.S. Census Bureau.

The Council of Wide Awake Indians, a Waccamaw governmental body, formed in 1910 to seek federal recognition and to gain government funds for the creation of Indian schools. Although  the Waccamaw were not successful in securing federal recognition, the tribe founded its first public school in 1933. More schools were created but segregation brought an end to these institutions in 1967.  According to William DiNome, the tribe, however, received federal funding.  This allowed the group access to government programs even though the Waccamaw never attained federal recognition.

Presently, the Waccamaw number approximately 1,500, and they live near Saint James, Ricefield, or Buckhead in Bladen or Columbus County.  North Carolina recognizes the Waccamaw tribe.  The Waccamaw are closely related to other North Carolina tribes such as the Coharie and Lumbee, and the tribe is overwhelmingly affiliated with the Baptist denomination.

The governing authority of the Waccamaw is the Waccamaw Siouan Development Association (WSDA) that was formed in 1972. The organization is headed by a nine-member board and chief, who largely holds a symbolic role. The WSDA operates the economic growth of the tribe and it seeks to find employment for Waccamaw members.

The WSDA governs a tract of land near Lake Waccamaw where both ritual and cultural activities and political meetings are held each year. One of the most popular Waccamaw traditions that continues today is the powwow festival. Started in 1960, the powwow is held each October, and it continues the tribe’s cultural heritage.