The first Indian Affairs Commission was established by the Lords Proprietors in 1680 “to hear and determine differences between the Christians and the Indians.” The expectation was that the commission would help to promote peace between the two peoples. However, after two years the proprietors revoked the commission because it seemed that the commissioners were using their powers to oppress and exploit the Indians rather than protect them from slavery.
By 1710 the commission was again operating, though the colonial governor wielded most of the power over Indian affairs at this time. Records of the commission for the years 1710–1718 and 1750–1757 have been found and published. Although the “Indian Books” of the 1720s, 1730s, and 1740s have been lost, it is fair to say the commission did continue during those decades.
After the Revolutionary War, control over Indian affairs passed to the United States government, though not always willingly or completely. Whereas the Cherokees, because of their population size and their multistate presence, were treated with respect by the new national government, the smaller nations were left to be wards of the states. South Carolina, as did many states, had an agent to report to the General Assembly and the governor on the condition of the Native Americans. Nevertheless, throughout the nineteenth and much of the twentieth century, South Carolina practiced a policy of benign neglect toward its Native American nations. The result was that many of the nations lost their identity by assimilating into the larger European and African populations around them. A few, most notably the Catawbas, managed to maintain a sense of tribal identity throughout the centuries.
In the 1970s, Native Americans, following the lead of other minorities, began demanding their political rights, including self-determination and tribal political sovereignty. The tribes of South Carolina also sought political recognition. In 1993 the Catawbas again became a federally recognized tribe, but the Edisto, the Pee Dee, the Chicora-Waccamaw, and the Santee peoples remained subject to the laws of the State of South Carolina.
In 1999, 2001, and again in 2003, bills were introduced into the South Carolina General Assembly to establish an Indian Affairs Commission, but the bills died in committee. An unofficial South Carolina Indian Affairs Commission was established as a nonprofit organization in November 2000. It is made up of representatives from the following tribes and Indian groups: the American Indian Center of South Carolina, the Beaver Creek Band of Pee Dee Indians, the Catawba Indian Nation, the Chicora Indian Tribe of South Carolina, Inc., the Chaloklowa Chickasaw, the Piedmont American Indian Association (Lower Eastern Cherokee Nation), the Pee Dee Indian Association, the Santee Indian Organization, and the Waccamaw Indian People. The Edisto Indian Organization is also recognized.
McDowell, William L., Jr., ed. Documents Relating to Indian Affairs. Vol. 2, 1754–1765. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1970.
Milling, Chapman J. Red Carolinians. 1940. Reprint, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1969.