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The Catawba Cultural Center Upholding and Revitalizing Catawban Community’s Rich Heritage

Catawba Heritage Revival Scene.

The Catawba Cultural Center: Upholding and Revitalizing Catawban Community’s Rich Heritage


In the heart of the Catawba Indian Nation reservation near Rock Hill, South Carolina, the Catawba Cultural Center stands as a beacon of vibrant tradition for the Catawban community. Originally starting as a two-roomed school in 1948 built by the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the center has since morphed into a critical hub of cultural preservation and celebration.

The Journey So Far

Dr. Wenonah G. Haire, a respectable dentist and tribal member of the Catawba Indian Nation, has served as the executive director of the Catawba Cultural Preservation Project since its inception in 1989. Considering the community’s growing disconnection from their distinct culture, she embarked on a mission to reclaim, preserve, and foster the Catawba Indian Nation’s rich heritage – an effort that eventually culminated in the establishment of the Catawba Cultural Center.

The center initially functioned as a school, providing education to local Catawba children during the segregation era. After segregation ended in 1964 through the Civil Rights Act, it continued its service by catering to the educational needs of the children nearby where access to schooling was a challenge. However, with time, as the tribe’s younger generations started attending public schools, the building went into disrepair.

Reviving the Cultural Hub

In the early 1990s, the school was moved from its original location to where it sits today on Tom Steven Road. After a significant renovation in 2020 and 2021, funded by federal ARPA dollars, the center converted into a bustling hub of cultural activity.

The Catawba Cultural Center, more than just bricks and mortar, has been recognized for its exceptional efforts in preserving and promoting the cultural and material heritage of the Catawba people. The center was honored with the Excellence in Preservation Award by the Charlotte Museum of History. The award acknowledges outstanding contributions to historical preservation in the Charlotte region.

Preserving the Past and Recreating the future

The center offers a spectrum of activities that foster the preservation of traditional knowledge. From basket-making workshops using the scarce resource of rivercane to maintaining a rich archive of invaluable Catawba documents, crafts, photographs, and books, the center continues to live its mission of preserving the past while innovating for the future.

The center is also host numerous adult workshops, Head Start preschool classes, outdoor educational programs, and offerings that cater to the tribal elders. Each of these initiatives has further cemented the center’s status as a nurturing ground for the Catawba community.

The Path Forward

Dr. Haire continues to work tirelessly on various projects aimed at the center’s enhancement, one of which includes The Palisade. This living village on the Catawba Cultural Center’s property aims to provide a more immersive experience of Catawba life and history. The proposed project, in collaboration with the Rock Hill Convention & Visitors Bureau, is expected to be completed in the next 18 months.

Reflecting on her journey with the center, Dr. Haire emphasized the importance of cultural preservation for future generations. She has witnessed an encouraging increase in the number of young people taking interest and playing active roles in learning and practicing the Catawba culture, solidifying her hope for the center’s future.

With numerous programs and initiatives, the Catawba Cultural Center stands as a proud testament to the Catawban community’s enduring legacy and cultural vitality. The center’s continuous efforts in cultural preservation and promotion offer promise for the continued survival of the Catawba’s historical heritage.

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