Growing up in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina, I always wondered about the name: Pee Dee. It seemed a little odd and caused much snickering amongst children. But I later learned that the name came from a tribe of Indians that once lived in the area.
South Carolina at one time was home to dozens of Indian tribes and tribal groups. Along the coast near Hilton Head Island are shell rings – remnants of the earliest people to call the area home. Most small-town museums include some section of exhibits devoted to the native peoples of the area.
Now, South Carolina is now home to one federally recognized tribe – the Catawbas, whose tribal presence is located in York County – and more than a dozen state-recognized tribes and tribal groups. As of 2010, there were more than 40,000 Native Americans living in South Carolina.
Preserving the heritage and culture that gave us the names for many of our rivers and geographic locations – including not just the Pee Dee, but also the Salkehatchie, Coosawhatchie, Wateree and countless others – is the goal of the Native American Studies Center (803) 313-7172, 119 South Main St., Lancaster.
The center is a year old this month and includes the largest collection of Catawba Indian pottery in the world. The center also offers visitors the opportunity to participate in educational programs and learn about the language and folklore of South Carolina’s native peoples.
The center’s collections began in 2003 with a donation from Dr. Tom Blumer, who gave papers, archives and artifacts about the Catawba Indians to Medford Library at the University of South Carolina Lancaster. The collection was the result of 40 years of research by Blumer.
Two years later, USC Lancaster developed a curriculum and public programs that focused on Native American art and culture.
The center is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. It closes at 7 p.m. on Thursday and opens at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
Lancaster bonus: If you can plan your trip for Aug. 30, you will get the added treat of a free outdoor concert starting at 6 p.m. Bring your lawn chair, but leave the pets at home. Gus’ Family Pizza Restaurant (803) 285-1552, 605 South Main St., will be the featured restaurant and will be selling food during the event. Beer also will be available for sale as well as arts and crafts. The concert is 6-9 p.m. at the corner of Main and Gay streets.