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Edisto Natchez-Kusso Tribe elects new chief who is focused on federal recognition status

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John Glenn Creel

John Glenn Creel was elected as the Chief of the Edisto Natchez-Kusso Tribe of South Carolina in November 2019. Sabrina Creel/ Provided. 

RIDGEVILLE — The Edisto Natchez-Kusso Tribe, comprised of nearly 400 Native Americans living in Dorchester and Colleton counties, will swear in a new chief in January.

The tribe, known for its expertise in creating cypress dugout canoes and boat paddles, organized as a governing entity in the 1960s and received state recognition in 2008. It is one of seven tribes recognized in the state. 

The tribe’s history took shape after the Yemassee War in the early 18th century. The Kusso, native to the Charleston area, began interacting with a band of Natchez that were fleeing east from the French presence around Mississippi. At the same time, a separate group of Natchez arrived from western North Carolina.

John Glenn Creel, 52, ran unopposed in November and will succeed Andy Spell. Spell served as chief for eight years and will continue to serve on the Tribal Council. Creel said he wants to "continue to add on to what Andy Spell has done" and keep the tribe together. 

Spell served on the S.C. Commission for Minority Affairs on the Native American Advisory Committee, among other Native American committees, and as a tribe petition reviewer.

Among his accomplishments: Spell coordinated the future rebuilding of The Robert Davidson Center for the tribe's headquarters and tribal functions. Dorchester County Council provided $150,000 toward the project. The tribe is looking to expand cultural classes and tribal education programs. 

Creel is a first-generation college student. Before going to medical school at the Medical University of South Carolina, Creel worked as a science and math middle and high school teacher. He coached football, weightlifting and track. In 1995, he was accepted to medical school, joined the Tribal Council and became a pastor at Little Rock Holiness Church in Cottageville.

Creel is a medical doctor with Walterboro Adult and Pediatric Medicine and director of the nationally recognized Edisto Indian Free Medical Clinic.

Creel took over the medical clinic in 2002 and established a nonprofit board. 

As chief, Creel wants to continue the Tribal Council's efforts for federal tribal recognition. The tribe filed a letter of intent requesting recognition in December 1976 and a partial petition has been pending since 1983.

In South Carolina, the Catawba Indian Nation is the only tribe with federal recognition. 

Federal recognition means the tribe would have access to more grant funding for housing. To access more funding, Creel said he will also advocate for an audit to take place, too. He plans to reach out to companies such as Volvo to see about jobs available to Native Americans. 

Creel said as chief, he also wants to expand the senior meals program in Colleton and Dorchester counties and expand the clinic's hours to open four days a week. He wants to reincorporate gospel music at the yearly Pow Wow.

Creel follows the footsteps of his father, Johnnie Creel, who was a tribal chief in 1982 and 1983. 

Reach Mikaela Porter at 843-937-5906. Follow her on Twitter @mikaelaporterPC. 

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