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December 2022 | Volume 16 | Issue 1

About the Catawba Nation

The Catawba Nation, known as yeh is-WAH h’reh, meaning “People of the River,” is made up of 3,800 citizens and has a 700-acre reservation in Rock Hill, South Carolina along with another reservation in Kings Mountain, North Carolina, home of its Two Kings Casino. The Nation had its federal recognition restored with the passage of the Catawba Indian Tribe of South Carolina Land Claims Settlement Act, which Congress passed in 1993 to restore the federal trust relationship between the United States and the Nation.1 This act also incorporated the terms of the State Settlement Act, which was also passed in 1993 by the State of South Carolina.2 Through the Catawba Indian Claims State Settlement Act, South Carolina recognizes the Nation’s sovereignty but imposes tight restrictions on that sovereignty by limiting its civil and criminal jurisdiction.

Because of limited resources, the Nation is currently receiving police services from the York County Sheriff’s Office in Rock Hill. However, in the past several years, the Nation has strategically planned how to improve public safety on its reservation. In 2021, the Nation completed the Tribal Justice Strategic Plan after it was awarded a grant under Purpose Area #2 of the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation (CTAS). The strategic plan, which collected data from a community survey, focus groups, interviews, and tribal and non-tribal entities, highlighted significant public safety needs on the Nation’s Rock Hill reservation and revealed that to improve public safety, strengthen tribal sovereignty, and improve trust in the Tribal Government, a tribal police department needed to be created. The data in the strategic plan revealed that substance abuse is the number one issue in the community, which leads to other crimes such as theft and domestic violence. Data showed that almost half of violent calls coming from the reservation in 2020 were for domestic-related offenses and that tribal citizens felt the local police department’s response times were unacceptably slow. As a result, the data from the strategic plan overwhelmingly showed that community members desperately desire and need a tribal police department.

CRI-TAC Technical Assistance Overview

In 2020, the Catawba Nation entered a work plan with the Collaborative Reform Initiative Technical Assistance Center (CRI-TAC). CRI-TAC assisted the Nation in cultivating a cross-deputization agreement as well as other law enforcement documents. Through the strategic plan and with the help of the technical assistance providers from CRI-TAC, tribal staff were able to develop goals, objectives, and action steps needed for the creation of the Nation’s police department. The Nation hired its first Director of Public Safety at the end of 2021 with guidance from CRI-TAC and established the Catawba Nation Tribal Police Department at the beginning of 2022. Since then, the Nation has hired a Deputy Director of Public Safety and has established police department policies. Upon completing its work plan with CRI-TAC, the Catawba Nation Tribal Police Department has been granted its Originating Agency Identifier by both the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the state of South Carolina, and its police officers are working toward being granted their Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Special Law Enforcement Commissions. The Nation recently received funding through the COPS Office’s Tribal Resources Grant Program (TRGP), which is Purpose Area #1 of the DOJ CTAS. Through the TRGP funding, the Nation will hire an additional law enforcement officer as well as purchase needed equipment such as a vehicle, radio, records management system, computer, and related software. The Nation also just adopted a criminal code to ensure police officers of the Nation can enforce tribal law.

Through its partnership with CRI-TAC, the Nation learned strategies and practical skills from law enforcement professionals working in Indian Country. While there have been challenges along the way, the advice from CRI-TAC professionals who have experienced similar challenges has been invaluable to the Nation due to the complexity of law enforcement in Indian Country. The Nation looks forward to fostering its relationships with CRI-TAC professionals as it continues its law enforcement journey.

Shawn Butler is the Director of Public Safety for the Catawba Nation. Shawn recently retired after 25 years of service as the chief of police at the City of Auburn (New York) Police Department. Shawn recently received his SC Class-1 Police Certification.

Mike Ligon is the Deputy Director of Public Safety for the Catawba Nation. Mike recently retired from the York County (South Carolina) Sheriff’s Office after 26 years of service as a lieutenant.

Shawn Butler, Director of Public Safety, Catawba Nation
Mike Ligon, Deputy Director of Public Safety, Catawba Nation
Shawn Butler and Mike Ligon, Catawba Nation

Lydia Locklear
Deputy Tribal Attorney
Catawba Nation

Photos courtesy of the Catawba Nation.


1Pub. L. No. 103-116, formerly codified at 25 U.S.C. § 941 et seq. (omitted from the editorial reclassification of Title 25).

2S.C. Code Ann. § 27-16-10

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