Catawba chief relies on pride, purpose, passion to lead his nation

CATAWBA INDIAN NATION — Bill Harris stood in the center of the Round House, looking at the circle’s empty seats, envisioning them filled with his fellow Catawba Indians.

Nothing, he said, can prepare you to be chief of the Catawba Indian Nation.

Nothing he learned at Rock Hill High School – from which he graduated in 1972 – prepared him for the job, he said.

While his grandfather, Douglas Harris, was chief when he was a baby, Harris said, he never dreamed of being chief.

If anything, he said, it was the lessons learned from his grandmother, acclaimed master Catawba potter Georgia Harris, that helped prepare him to lead a nation.

After high school, Harris studied the centuries-old ways of making pottery with his grandmother. He came to turn Catawba riverbank mud into stunning works of art. His grandmother, however, had a captive audience.

As he worked the clay, she spoon-fed him the history of the Catawbas. She talked about the people, about the heritage, about what it meant to be a Catawba.

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