Local Native Americans seek answers as development nears their land

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By VICKI BROWN

vbrown@lowcountry.com

The Edisto Natchez-Kusso Native American Tribe has lived secluded and peacefully for centuries. The Tribe is comprised of more than 400 Native Americans living in the Four Holes area of Dorchester County near Ridgeville and in the Creeltown area in Colleton County near Cottageville.

Soon, the Tribe’s lifestyle may change.

A private land owner is selling more than 400 acres across from the Indian community. A request has been made to the Dorchester County Council to rezone the land for residential purposes, but that request has not yet been voted on by that elected body. 

“They are saying that because of the Walmart distribution center and the Volvo company, people are needing a place to live, so they are attempting to build a single-family housing development across the road. There really isn’t much we can do because we don’t own the land. Rumor has it that we did many, many years ago,” said Sabrina Grey Wolf Creel, Four Holes Tribal Council board member. Grey is the spokeswoman for the Tribe. “Funny thing about this development and rezoning is they never reached out to the tribal community to let us know,” she said. 

The tribe’s history comes in after the Yemassee War in the early 1700s. The Kusso were native to Charleston area, and they began trading with a band of Natchez who were fleeing from the French in Mississippi. 

A separate group of Natchez later arrived from western North Carolina. The groups merged to form the Edisto Natchez-Kusso, one of seven tribes recognized in the state. They were known for their expertise in creating cypress dugout canoes and boat paddles, a craft they are working to preserve.

The tribe also maintains the Edisto Indian Free Clinic. 

They have an agreement with LabCorps to do free labs; with a gastroenterologist to do free endoscopies and colonoscopies; give free samples of medicines; help the uninsured and underserved Native Americans gain access to essential health services, as well as offer free prescriptions for chronic diseases. They also have a pediatric dental program. The medical office is supported by grants from Roper, and other grant providers such as the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Foundation and the S.C. Department of Health and Human Services. 

The Edisto Indian Free Clinic started in the early 1990s, serving just the Edisto-Kusso-Natchez Indians who live in the Creeltown area. It now helps many other patients.

Despite the free medical help, Grey says the Tribe still has a high poverty rate among its members. 

This means that the new development is causing some anxiety, she said. 

“Some of the Tribal members are concerned that taxes will increase and of course traffic flow may become a problem due to poor infrastructure. Some of the roads and ditches are not up to par compared to some of the other areas in the county,” said Dr. John Creel, Chief of the Edisto Natchez-Kusso Tribe.

According to Creel, some of the Tribal Council members are trying to “look on the bright side,” and are hoping that if the development continues, it will bring grocery stores closer to the community and other job opportunities at businesses. 

“We hope that Walmart will reach out to our community in regards to job opportunities at the warehouse,” said Dr. Creel. “We also hope that this development will bring more folks to attend our local churches and to support our powwow, (the tribe’s religious and ceremonial gathering/homecoming). 

“We need a concession stand with restrooms and powwow arbor ($350,000 project) on our 5-acre property, across from where they’re going to develop,” he said. 

“We also would like to build a 20-room assisted living facility ($1.8 million-project) for our seniors,” said Dr. Creel. 

Creel said he has big plans for his tribe, but because of the lower incomes suffered by many Native American families, raising funds for such an endeavor is difficult.

“We thought it would be nice to talk with the developer, who has not reached out to us to this point, in regards to possibly helping us,” said Dr. Creel. “We were hoping to get some correspondence; but, again no one has reached out to us.”

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