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Photo of a traditional Catawba dancer, November 1999
Dean Canty, traditional dancer, November 1999

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Yap Ye Iswa (Day of the Catawba)
A Local Legacy

The Catawba Indians used to inhabit the territory around the Catawba River in North and South Carolina. In the 17th century the Catawba, which means "people of the river," numbered about 5,000, but by the end of the 20th century there were only about 1,200 descendants of the Catawba, who lived around Rock Hill, South Carolina. The last known speaker of the Catawba language, Red Thunder Cloud, a singer and storyteller, died in January 1996.

The heritage of the Catawba is celebrated by the Catawba Cultural Preservation Project, which holds a festival every year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving -- Yap Ye Iswa (Day of the Catawba). The festival is a way for the Catawba to celebrate their culture and share it with people of all backgrounds.

The festival begins with a calling song performed by the River Spirit drum group with the Grand Entry of tribal veterans, dancers and drummers. After the Grand Entry, various tribal drum groups play while tribal dancers perform traditional Catawba dances. A puppet show based on Catawba folklore and in the Catawba language is presented, as well as video presentations on the Catawba culture.

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