COLUMBIA — Americans Indians came to the Statehouse dressed in buckskin and beaded regalia Tuesday when Gov. Mark Sanford ceremoniously restored one very sacred right.
"It's a big step forward — we've been underprivileged for too long," Santee Indian Chief Roosevelt Scott said of the authority recently returned to tribe chiefs and spiritual leaders to perform marriage ceremonies.
The Legislature passed a bill, signed by the governor last month, that makes the addition to the short list of people with the authority to conduct a marriage ceremony in the state. The others are ministers, rabbis and officers, such as judges, granted the right to administer oaths.
Chief Louie Chavis of the Beaver Creek Indians in Orangeburg County was one of the bill's advocates.
"It is something that will bring our community back together," said Chavis, who said the last tribal ceremonies were legally conducted here in the early 1800s. Chiefs have continued to perform marriages but needed to sign off as registered notaries prior to the bill going into effect in June.
An estimated 27,000 American Indians live in South Carolina, although that number is believed to be highly underestimated, according to Marcy Hayden, program coordinator for Native American Affairs at the state Commission for Minority Affairs.
The demand for tribal wedding ceremonies is hard to predict, but Chief James Caulder of the Pee Dee Indian Tribe of South Carolina said he believes the new law will help pique interest.
"I do believe now young Indian maidens or Indian braves will want to have an Indian wedding," Caulder said.
Susan Hayes Hatcher of Conway, acting chief of the Waccamaw Indian People, and her husband, Harold "Buster" Hatcher, became the first couple married under the new law.
Chief Gene Norris of the Lower Eastern Cherokee Nation of South Carolina performed the ceremony at a powwow in Gray Court.
The crowd at the Statehouse also was excited about a second bill Sanford ceremoniously signed Tuesday that allows American Indian artists to use wild turkey feathers in the arts and crafts they are selling.
Using turkey feathers in crafts for sale was illegal until June 11, when the new law went into effect.
Lisa Leach, tribal admin-istrator for the Wassamasaw Tribe of Varnertown Indians in the Charleston area, said the next big mission is to educate the state about what it means to be an American Indian.
"We live in both worlds," said Leach, who also is a member of the state Native American Advisory Board. "We are contemporary natives because we have lived in a contemporary society, but we maintain our belief and culture."
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