Happy Friday everyone!
March is Women’s History Month! In honor of that, we’re going to highlight Indigenous women from the Catawba Nation over the course of the next few weeks. If you feel inspired (which we hope you do), you should visit the Museum to see The Language of Clay: Catawba Indian Pottery and Oral Traditions, organized by the USC Lancaster Native American Studies Center, in collaboration with the Catawba Nation.
'The Language of Clay' will be open through the end of 2022 and includes more than 20 pottery pieces from the 19th century to today, many of which are by women potters.
You can read a more in-depth overview of the Catawba Nation in our series from last summer, but it’s important to have a basic understanding of Catawba history. When colonists arrived in what is now Charlotte, the land had been the home of the Catawba for thousands of years, with established communities and trade routes (including our modern Trade St). Catawba Chief Hagler, who adopted the term “king,” was the leader of the Catawba in the mid-18th century. His alliance with the European settlers during the Seven Years War (also known as the French & Indian War) helped cement the Catawba’s position in the volatile colony. Towards the end of his leadership, a smallpox epidemic - a disease brought by the European colonists - decimated the nation’s population to less than 1,000 citizens. Despite this and thanks to the diplomatic efforts of King Hagler, the English deeded over 100,000 acres to the Catawba after Hagler’s death in 1763. Much of this land was leased to early settlers.
In the early 19th century, the leaseholders pressured the South Carolina legislature to take the land from the Catawba. In a treaty, South Carolina purchased the 144,000 acres of the original Catawba Nation and relegated the remaining citizens to a new area. In the 1950s, the federal government removed the Catawba Nation’s official status, blaming shrinking citizenship. The Nation reorganized and updated the constitution and filed an official petition to be federally recognized in the 1970s. In November 1993, the Nation was officially recognized by the federal government.
Traditionally, Catawba communities were matriarchal societies and women were considered the center of their communities. Even in the 18th and 19th centuries, Catawba women were landowners, political representatives, and primary keepers of their homes and traditions. Beginning in the 1970s alongside the fight for recognition, the Catawba began reviving cultural traditions and hosted pottery and Catawba language classes. Many women who were master potters were tasked with teaching pottery classes to younger generations and to their own descendants. Many of the pieces in The Language of Clay are by these women or their descendants. Today, the Catawba Cultural Center hosts programs on Catawba pottery, language, basket weaving, and other traditional crafts. Over 50 Catawba citizens make and sell pottery on a regular basis. Learn more about Catawba artisans and purchase pieces at the Catawba Cultural Center.
Over the next three weeks, we’ll feature four Catawba women from history and today who made their mark on the Nation’s history and culture. In the meantime, visit the Museum to check out The Language of Clay and follow the Catawba Nation online at catawba.com.
Have a great weekend!
The Charlotte Museum of History
About The Charlotte Museum of History
The Charlotte Museum of History exists to save and share the Charlotte region’s history, helping create a better understanding of the past and inspiring dialogue about the future. The museum is the steward of the 1774 Hezekiah Alexander Rock House and homesite, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the oldest home in Mecklenburg County. Visit charlottemuseum.org and follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The museum is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
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“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass