Native Americans celebrate new law

Gov. Mark Sanford has ceremonially signed two bills sought by American Indians, calling the legislation a celebration of the original Americans.

About 50 Native Americans from several tribes, many in traditional dress, joined Sanford at a ceremony in Columbia Tuesday to highlight two bills he signed in June.

One allows chiefs and spiritual leaders to perform marriage ceremonies and sign marriage documents. The other removes restrictions on the type of feathers that can be used in traditional clothing and crafts.

Chiefs say the marriage bill is an essential step toward tribal self-governance.

“It's giving our heritage back to us and some of our traditions,” said Gene Norris, chief of the state-recognized Lower Eastern Cherokee Nation of South Carolina.

“Long ago … our people ran their own tribes as a government where we could marry people to try to keep tradition of our own culture, of our own people alive,” Beaver Creek Indian chief Louis Chavis said. “…it will be another great door opening to us.”

The new law adds chiefs to the list of officials who can sign marriage licenses, which includes notaries, priests and rabbis.

The crowd at the State House Tuesday included members of several tribes. Beaver skin and turkey feathers adorned the heads of some tribal leaders, while some women wore earth-toned dresses accessorized with intricately woven and beaded bracelets and necklaces – even a turtle-shell purse.

A bill to prevent groups from calling themselves tribes without state recognition died in the General Assembly, but the State Office of Minority Affairs expects approval next year.