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Two women become first to hold elected office in Catawba tribe 7-07

ROCK HILL, S.C. (AP) - Melissa Funderburk and Leigh Anne Bickett hope
their precedent-setting election will help them lead the Catawba
Indian Nation back to its foundations.

The pair became the first Catawba women to win an elected office when
they won seats on the tribe's executive committee July 21.

They join new chief Donald Rodgers, assistant chief Gene Blue,
secretary/treasurer Jason Harris and fellow committee members Butch
Sanders and John Williford as the top decision-makers for the tribe.

One woman - Frances Wade - served on the committee in 1973, but she
was appointed to the office.

Tribe historians claim a group of women once made key decisions and
the chief was a figurehead. But European settlers moving into the
Carolinas 400 years ago refused to trade or conduct affairs with
Catawba women.

“They (Catawba women) saw that the Europeans wouldn't work with
us,” Funderburk said. “In order to sustain ourselves and survive,
we had to put our men at the table to negotiate.”

Since then, men have dominated politics for the Catawbas, the state's
only federally recognized Indian tribe.

“It just proves that our tribe is moving with the times. It's a
wonderful way to say, 'Women don't just cook and clean anymore.
They're running our tribe,' “ said Bickett, a 28-year-old housing
manager for ISWA Development, the tribe's housing company. “I'm very
honored, and I'm up for the challenge to work with all these men.”

Rodgers said Funderburk and Bickett, a Chester resident who is the
only committee member not living on or near the reservation, will
bring balance to the decision-making.

“After European contact, the men went out and did things on their
own,” he said. “Unfortunately, sometimes it was to their own
detriment.”

Funderburk, 37, is program director for the early childhood education
program Catawba Head Start. She also is a former social services
worker on the reservation.

“I'm honored that so many people have put their confidence in me,” she said. “I
think people respect me and expect me to do good things here. I've
walked the talk.”

The tribe faces many challenges, particularly finding ways to make up
for lost income in its bingo operations since the state began running
a lottery.

“Everybody thinks I'm crazy for taking this on,” Funderburk said.
“But I have a lot of love and compassion for my people, and I
obtained an education in order to help my people.”

Bickett said changes are on the way, including operating more in public view.

“Our tribe has been in disarray for so long. We want to build trust
in this new group,” she said. “It's gonna take all seven of us
working as a team to bring peace. We no longer have to be behind
closed doors.”

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Information from: The Herald, http://www.heraldonline.com
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