Waccamaw Indian People: Past, Present, Future
Coastal Carolina University/Horry County Museum/Waccamaw Indian People Council of SC Professional Archaeologists
Carolyn Dillian (RPA #12519)
In spring semester, 2021, 37 students in Dr. Katie Stringer Clary and Dr. Carolyn Dillian’s classes at Coastal Carolina University worked in collaboration with the Waccamaw Indian People to create an exhibit at the Horry County Museum entitled Waccamaw Indian People: Past, Present, Future. The main goal of this project was to tell the story of the Waccamaw Indian People through their words, voices, images, and belongings, and educate the community about the Waccamaw Indian People’s history, heritage, and culture.
Because the exhibit was intended to be a true collaborative partnership with the Waccamaw Indian People, the Chief, Vice Chief, and Tribal Council were consulted at all stages of the exhibit creation. From the very beginning, Drs. Clary and Dillian met with the Chief and Vice Chief of the tribe to obtain their consent for the project and talk about what kind of exhibit content they would like to see included in the physical and online spaces. The PIs obtained IRB approval (IRB #2021.114) prior to the initiation of this phase of the project, and a COVID Research Resumption Plan was submitted and approved by the Dean of Graduate Studies and Research at CCU. Ten tribal members agreed to be interviewed by CCU students for exhibit content, and their interviews were recorded. Excerpts of the interviews were used as printed text and as push-button audio in the exhibit, and the full interviews are available through the exhibit website (a QR code in the exhibit allows museum-goers direct access to this resource). All photographs, text, audio, and exhibit displays were approved by tribal members at every stage of design, and their comments and edits were incorporated prior to printing and construction, so that their message came through in the final exhibit.
Through the use of interviews, photographs, archaeological artifacts, and personal belongings, the exhibit traces the history of the Waccamaw Indian People from prehistoric times through today, and highlights tribal members’ aspirations for the future of their tribe. Additionally, the use of digital spaces, websites, audio, and videos allows people who are unable to visit the Museum physically to interact with artifacts and interpretation.
Museum goers completed an exit survey online with responses that were overwhelmingly positive. However, museum audiences were not the sole beneficiaries of this effort. We also sought to educate Coastal Carolina University students in museum design, provide opportunities for students to work collaboratively with diverse descendant communities, and give students experience in ethnographic methods and historical research. As instructors, Drs. Clary and Dillian worked with 37 Coastal Carolina University students in building the exhibit from start to finish, using best museum practices, community and stakeholder engagement, and commitment to education for the public.
The mission of the Horry County Museum is “to collect and preserve material related to the prehistory, natural history, history and culture of Horry County; to interpret and to create exhibits of such materials and to prepare educational programs related to them for presentation to the public.” The Horry County Museum typically gets approximately 25,000 visitors each year, mostly drawn from the local community, school groups, and organized tours. The artifacts selected for the exhibit came from the Museum’s collections, but other belongings were placed on loan to the Museum by members of the Waccamaw Indian People. An important part of the exhibit was the personal narratives and oral histories provided by members of the tribe during
interviews with CCU students. Artifacts included: prehistoric projectile points and pottery spanning Paleoindian through to historic times; a pipe, gourd art, ribbon dress and ribbon shirt on loan from tribal members (loan agreement arranged between the Horry County Museum and individual owners of these objects); and photographs, text, and audio highlighting tribal members and their stories.
Students stated that they enjoyed the project and working with the Waccamaw Indian People. The ability to see the project to completion and interact with tribal members was one of the biggest benefits. One student commented “I learned a lot about what goes on behind the scenes when it comes to putting on an exhibit.” Others focused more specifically on what they learned about the Waccamaw Indian People, such as “my favorite part of this exhibit was our collaboration with the Waccamaw and our ability to learn more about them first-hand. That first Zoom meeting with the Chief and Vice Chief changed our perspective on the class. This was no longer a class where we were forced to learn a curriculum and create a project based on this. The end result of this project was something bigger than academia, which, as students, we are not used to nor have had much experience with. This project gave us the chance to make a real change for the better in our community.” Another commented that because the exhibit sometimes addressed painful personal stories by members of the Waccamaw Indian People, the classes worked respectfully with “…difficult information in a manner that was inclusive [and] brought up discussions of difficult topics” which allowed everyone to learn about that history.
An additional and unexpected positive impact is that this project serves as a model for other museums. The partnership between multiple University departments, the Museum, and the Waccamaw Indian People has attracted interest from other museums in the region and beyond. Drs. Clary and Dillian have been contacted by individuals from the South Carolina State Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, and the USC Lancaster Native American Studies Center, for advice on creating collaborative efforts of their own. The transparency in the development of this project, and the exhibition of our process within the exhibit and online, should serve to inspire other museums to create similar exhibits and partnerships.
Measured outcomes revealed that the exhibit educated the community about the Waccamaw Indian People, created collaborations and lasting partnerships with CCU’s Native American neighbors, and raised student awareness about this local descendant community while giving them the knowledge and skill to work respectfully with diverse groups. Waccamaw Indian People: Past, Present, Future will remain on display at the Horry County Museum for at least one year. Portable, collapsible panels were also printed with exhibit materials, which will be loaned for temporary exhibits to local libraries, schools, and other organizations. If the Waccamaw Indian People would like them, the printed exhibit panels, photographs, and other exhibit items not owned by the Horry County Museum will be given to the tribe to place on display at their Tribal Grounds office or facility of their choice after the exhibit ends at the Museum. Additional materials based on the exhibit content will be placed into education kits that are used in the Museum’s school outreach programs and teaching materials. The website for the exhibit will remain online with photographs, text, and audio links, offering a permanent educational resource for everyone to use.
Media featuring Waccamaw Indian People: Past, Present, Future
∙ Waccamaw Indian People exhibit opens in Conway CCU Article/ Video: https://www.coastal.edu/ccustories/news/news-article/index.php?id=5313
∙ We Are Here CCU Article:
∙ SC Humanities Article: https://schumanities.org/news/the-waccamaw-indian-people-past present-and-future-exhibit/
∙ CCU News Vimeo Video: https://vimeo.com/540760153
∙ Post and Courier Article #1: https://www.postandcourier.com/understandsc/understand sc-waccamaw-indian-peoples-fight-to-become-a-federally-recognized
∙ Post and Courier Article #2:
https://www.postandcourier.com/news/local_state_news/waccamaw-indian-people-of-sc gain-support-in-push-for-federal-recognition/article_f544dc84-9e15-11eb-99bb 33f9ba561773.html
∙ WPDE News Article/ Video: https://wpde.com/news/local/exhibit-showcasing-history of-waccamaw-indian-people-now-open-at-horry-county-museum
∙ Post and Courier “Understand SC” Podcast:
∙ Myhorrynews article: https://www.myhorrynews.com/news/waccamaw-indians-believe they-will-finally-be-acknowledged/article_7913cfb8-a9fe-11eb-823b-fb03db0e4d76.html
∙ Peedeenewsnetwork: https://www.peedeenewsnetwork.com/announcements/the waccamaw-indian-people-past-present-and-future-exhibit-opens-at-the-horry-county museum/article_a91ee700-96f4-11eb-a8f0-cfd32bc38583.html
Social media mentions:
∙ CCU Twitter: https://twitter.com/CCUChanticleers/status/1393206967502397443∙ Dr. Sara Rich Tweet: https://twitter.com/wracksandruins/status/1392511865041866756
∙ CCU Department of Anthropology and Geology Facebook Post:
∙ CCU Facebook Exhibit preview Video:
Exhibit digital resources:
∙ Waccamaw Past Present Future Website: https://waccamawpastpresentfuture.com/
∙ Soundcloud Playlist: https://soundcloud.com/user-475547154/sets/waccamaw-indian people-past ∙ Waccamaw Indian People Website: https://www.waccamaw.org/single-post/ccu-horry county-museum-waccamaw-exhibit