USC celebrates Native American Heritage Month
By Marcie Nelson
November is Native American Heritage Month and the Carolina community is excited to celebrate the rich and diverse culture of our native people. Stephen Criswell, director of Native American Studies at USC Lancaster, heads the program that uncovers and preserves the traditions of South Carolina’s Indian tribes.
Q: What is the Native American Studies Center?
A: My colleagues and I helped create and build a program around a large collection of Catawba materials USC Lancaster acquired through donations and purchases. We now have the largest collection of Catawba Indian pottery in existence, a tradition that goes back at least 4,000 to 5,000 years.
My colleague Brent Burgin always says, “When the Egyptians were building the pyramids, the Catawba were making this pottery.”
Catawba Indian pottery, while beautiful and distinct to the Carolinas, is also the oldest uninterrupted pottery tradition in North America. Primarily passed down through generations and families, this pottery making tradition still lives on today.
Here at the Native American Studies Center we have four galleries and traveling exhibits. The center has been here a little over a year and we have had close to 6,000 visitors come through our doors. My colleagues and I work very closely with the Catawba Indians and neighboring tribes to tell their stories.
Q: What is Native American Heritage Month?
A: The main goals behind this month of celebration are to make nonnative people aware of the rich native heritage in this state, to serve as a liaison between natives and nonnatives and to celebrate rich and diverse culture.
Aside from numerous celebrations in the month of November, we have an open archaeology lab every other Thursday throughout the year. Patrons can come in, work through a quarter of a million artifacts and possibly find a spear point, bone fragments or pottery.
Q: Why is this something that the Carolina community commemorates?
A: There are parts of our lives that are directly influenced by the native people that we might not even be aware of, for example, the universally loved Southern tradition of barbecue can trace its roots back to Native Americans.
It is important to stress that these are living cultures and anyone interested in South Carolina culture and history needs to be aware of this critical aspect of our history and communities.
Q: What is going on at the Columbia campus?
A: The Multicultural Student Affairs Office wanted something to celebrate Native American Heritage Month and they contacted us about available traveling exhibits. We have one called, “Honoring the Animals,” which is an exhibit that looks at the role of animals in local Native American traditions.
This is the first time the center has had an exhibit at the Columbia campus and we are very excited about showing more members of the Carolina community the rich tradition and culture.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to tell the Carolina community?
A: The Native American Studies Center is minutes up the road and open every day. We frequently change our galleries and exhibits so no matter when you come, you will find something new and interesting to learn about.
Native American Heritage Month is still in full swing! Friday, Nov. 22, the Native American Studies Center at USC Lancaster will host Native American storyteller Raggi Calentine for an evening of family-friendly traditional tales.
See the full calendar of events.
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