DIHS presents Native Americans in the Lowcountry
Daniel Island is rich with a history that began long before European colonists landed, and Native American Indians were some of the first inhabitants, according to Daniel Island resident Jessica Knuff, who gave a fascinating talk about Native Americans in the Lowcountry on Nov. 19.
Sponsored by the Daniel Island Historical Society, the presentation honored Native American Heritage Month and marked the society’s last program of the year.
Knuff, who is of Cherokee/Pee Dee heritage, serves on the board of the U.S. Department of State’s Native American Foreign Affairs Council and acts as a White House Generation Indigenous liaison. She is currently employed by the State Department and is a member of the Indigenous Women’s Alliance of South Carolina.
Knuff presented detailed information on Lowcountry Indians from the past to the present. She described how most Native American history has been passed down orally, and this oral tradition is the most accurate record of the past.
Unlike other cultures, Native Americans can’t visit places from their ancestors’ past because, for the most part, those places no longer exist. Knuff explained Native Americans are keenly aware they live in a colonized country, so keeping their history alive through oral traditions is important for the culture.
An intriguing part of the presentation concentrated on the Colonial Era. Knuff pointed out that in the 1600s, Charleston was the “epicenter” of the Indian slave trade, and roughly 3 to 4 million indigenous people were enslaved in South Carolina. She said during that timeframe, more Native American slaves were exported out of Charleston than African slaves were brought into the country.
Knuff answered questions about Daniel Island and the Etiwan Indians. “Basically the Etiwan didn’t die out, they just moved inland,” she said. Most of the Native American inhabitants on Daniel Island migrated to other areas and integrated into other tribes.
The program also touched on prevailing problems within the Native American community, including the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) epidemic. The murder rate for Native American women is 10 times the national average. “The legacy of violence against Native women and girls dates back centuries, but it is a constant and contemporary issue for Native women living in America. The epidemic is widely discussed in Native communities, but without mainstream American awareness and support it is hard to push legislation …. The U.S. needs to commit to a comprehensive inquiry into the number of missing women to better understand the frequency and context of violence against, and disappearances of, Native women,” stated Knuff. “Several bills have been introduced, including Savannah’s Act, but pressure needs to be put on the government to pass and implement legislation,” she added.
Public support for this type of legislation is necessary to help the Native American community, Knuff told those attending the presentation, which was held at the Church of the Holy Cross on Daniel Island. “Raising awareness on the issue, starting dialog with local tribes, and attending events in support of the MMIW movement are all great ways to become involved,” she said.
To learn more about Native American issues and local events, visit the South Carolina Indian Affairs Commission’s Facebook page.
For more information about the Daniel Island Historical Society, visit www.dihistoricalsociety.com.