“The People of the Falling Star”

The ancestors of the Waccamaw originally resided across the Neuse, Cape Fear, and Pee Dee river basins. Because tribal naming by White colonizers was frequently inaccurate, the exact history of the group is unknown.

The Woccon-speaking tribe, first recorded in English in 1701, are believed to have become the Waccamaw (or Waccoommassus) Indians mentioned during the Tuscarora (1711-1713) and Yamasee Wars (1715) against the colonists. Further violence and European-borne diseases reduced and displaced the group, some adopted into the Catawba tribe. In 1749, the tribe had to seek refuge in the isolated swampland of North Carolina due to a war with a South Carolina Colony. Today, the Waccamaw-Siouan still live on the edge of the Green Swamp, predominantly in Bladen and Columbus counties. Land near Lake Waccamaw serves governmental and ceremonial purposes. According to legend, Lake Waccamaw was formed by a massive meteor that blazed across the night sky, thus the tribe is also known as "The People of the Falling Star."

The Waccamaw Siouan and GenX 

Many members of the Waccamaw Siouan tribe live in close proximity to the Cape Fear River. This is one of the most PFAS-contaminated rivers in the country. PFAS, or Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, are compounds that are used to make everyday items like nonstick cookware, stain repellents, and even pizza boxes. Birth defects, cancer, and numerous other health conditions have been linked to the ingestion of water contaminated with PFAS.

The NC Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) began investigating the issue of a well-known PFAS, GenX, in the Cape Fear River in 2017. NCDHHS has noted many of the potential negative health impacts of GenX exposure, including liver and kidney damage, decreased effectiveness of the immune system, and increased risk of cancer. State actors and corporations have continuously denied tribal requests for drinking water testing to ensure the safety of their water. 

The Waccamaw Siouan community continues to fight for environmental protection, as well as federal recognition, through the non-profit group that functions as an elected government called Waccamaw Siouan Tribal Council, Inc. The issue of GenX exposure is an important example of how environmental racism can have harmful health effects on people and the nearby environment.