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Catawba's elect new chief Bill Harris

Members of the Catawba Indian Nation have elected a new chief.

By a close margin, Bill Harris defeated incumbent secretary/treasurer Jason Harris to be elected the Catawba's latest chief.

Elections were held Saturday for the five-member executive committee that includes chief, assistant chief, secretary/treasurer and two committee persons. They run the day-to-day operations of the tribe.

Bill Harris, who got involved in Catawba politics 15 years ago, said he's excited to start the process of taking over his new duties today. He will be sworn in as chief Saturday.

Also elected: Wayne George as assistant chief and Rod Beck as secretary/ treasurer. Executive Committee members will be announced Aug. 6, Amy Canty, chairwoman of the tribe's election committee, said in an email.

Paper and absentee ballots were tallied and certified overnight into the morning Sunday. More than 520 tribal members cast votes, Canty said.

The election was certain to bring new leadership after Chief Donald Rodgers decided just weeks before the election not to seek a second term. Rodgers was elected in 2007 after Gilbert Blue served as chief for more than three decades.

The chief is the political, social and cultural leader for the tribe, which is the sole federally recognized tribe in South Carolina and has about 2,600 members, with more than half living on or near the tribe's reservation in eastern York County along the Catawba River. The chief serves a four-year term.

"We are as a nation are going to have periods in our time when there's going to be strife. In any small community, those conflicts will come to the surface," Harris said. "What we have to do is realize a majority should rule at the end of the day. I believe giving people the opportunity to establish a government that implements a majority rule policy is the key to satisfying the definition of democracy."