Andrew Dys

World Changers volunteers help build Catawba palisade

More than 130 volunteers from the World Changers building ministry were so efficient at repairing homes for needy families in Rock Hill this week that they finished early.

As a reward, they got to cut, saw and install a real Catawba Indian palisade – a wall surrounding a village to protect against marauders – that will encircle a living village exhibit that will show the world how the tribe lived hundreds of years ago.

“Awesome!” said one team leader, Carson Kennedy, 17, of Alabama. “We are helping build something that is part of this area’s history.”

World Changers has worked at the Catawbas’ York County reservation along the Catawba River for the past four summers. Several volunteers have helped fix some Catawba homes, but the living village is a ground-up project on a huge scale.

Volunteers helped clear the plot behind the Catawba Cultural Center the first year, and the last three summers have helped to put up the more than 1,500 cedar posts that will make up the palisade. On Friday, after many area projects wrapped up, the volunteers cut and hauled and built something that was used in the same spot 500 or more years ago.

“We are trying to make something here that shows the heritage of our people, and these World Changers are right here with us making it happen,” said John Thomas, an 18-year-old Catawba. “It is a great effort.”

Thomas and other Catawbas gave a cultural presentation for the volunteers, most of whom are teens, on Thursday night, complete with traditional dancing, drumming and more.

The tribe hopes to complete the project by next year and open it up to tourists to learn more about how South Carolina’s only federally recognized tribe lived and thrived in the days before modernization. Wenonah Haire, the historian who runs the Cultural Center, called the cooperative project with World Changers “an outstanding example of working together.”

Chief Bill Harris praised the students’ efforts during 90-plus degree heat, pointing out that their goal of helping others through community labor has been a Catawba ideal for centuries.

The work was tough. While adult volunteers with construction training and expertise used chainsaws and other power tools to cut the cedar posts, all the work to erect the wall and tie it together had to be done by hand. Girls as young as 13 carried poles around the property, older teens pulled and tugged and straightened, while still others nailed sections together.

Just the way a village of Catawbas built such a place hundreds of years ago, these volunteers did it right in 2014.

The palisades project and the entire living village will stand for generations as a testament to cooperation between the Baptist World Changers group and a Native American tribe that has been living on the same patch of ground since long before Columbus arrived in America.

“We have gotten a closer look into their organization, and at the same time we have been able to share our culture with them,” Harris said. “They have shared with us and we have shared with them.

“Having them work on the reservation – and especially on a cultural project like the palisades – demonstrates the barriers that have dropped between the tribe and the outside community.”