Gray Court, S.C. – On Thursday morning last week, Dexter “Yellow Hawk” Sharp got the final approval from a visiting DHEC engineer on a well which will finally provide quality drinking water for the PAIA Tribal Grounds of the Piedmont American Indian Association (PAIA) Lower Eastern Cherokee Nation S.C. in Gray Court.
It’s a process that has taken more than the five years since Sharp took over the task following the death in May 2017 of the tribe’s founding chief, Howard White Bull Norris.
The previous well, which was dug by hand in 1972, had been condemned for some time, and the leadership of the tribal grounds had struggled to remedy the situation.
Now the new well sits on the Tribal Grounds, located on Warrior Creek Church Road not far from the northern end of Metric Road. What started as about a 3.5 acre parcel now is about 7 acres, thanks to the continued generosity of their neighbor, who has given them additional land over the years. They have still had access to the old well for plumbing purposes, but all drinking water has had to be brought in since before 2017.
“We had well drillers here and Chief Norris died thinking we had a new well,” Sharp said.
Funds were tight, and when drillers went down 600 feet and still had not hit water, leaders told them to stop.
Sharp spent time almost every weekday trying to find grant funds or organizations which could assist. He contacted all the regular agencies, such as local utilities, the Committee of Minority Affairs and others, and each had various requirements that were impossible to meet. Federal agencies, for instance, require that a tribe be federally recognized, but PAIA only received state recognition in 2013.
Finally, a circuitous route of contacts this past winter lead Sharp to someone who knew of a well-drilling philanthropy which was willing to assist the tribe, even though it didn’t meet the typical parameters.
“I don’t even know who the donor is,” Sharp said. “But I got a call from a woman who had already told me her agency couldn’t help me but she was going to look for options.”
She told Sharp that she had found another organization that agreed to give the tribe $40,000 for a new well as long as they hired a hydrologist first. The hydrologist determined the best spot and he made a call to Rodgers Well Drilling in Greenwood.
“They went down 200 feet and didn’t hit water, and I said go another 100, and they hit water,” Sharp said.
DHEC engineer Joseph Clinton came by last Thursday to give final approval on the well, and David White, a technical assistance provider with the nonprof it Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project, helped attach the well cover.
The task is still not quite complete for the water to flow. Sharp has access to the pipes they need, but the contractors who will do the trenching and wiring of the system to the buildings have other job site commitments for the next several weeks. But the option to have drinkable water is important.
About 27 of the tribal elders met Saturday night, and Sharp said the elders are hoping to see more Cherokee descendants join the tribe. Rather than DNA proof, the state-recognized tribes need only show lineage through ancestry.
“We know they are here because the 2020 census showed more than 100 Native American descen- dants in Laurens County,” Sharp said.
The annual Pow Wow will be Saturday, Sept. 24, and those with Cherokee and other Native American lines gather from across the state and beyond. Boy Scout groups often camp or spend days learning about Native American life as well, such as the dug-out canoe, and the models of the summer and winter homes.
Anyone interested in more information about the PAIA Lower Eastern Cherokee Nation SC can contact Sharp at 864-906-5111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.