The Catawba — also known as Issa or Esaw or Iswä but most commonly Iswa (Catawba: iswa - “river”) — are a federally recognized tribe of Native Americans, known as the Catawba Indian Nation. They live in the Southeast United States, along the border of North Carolina near the city of Rock Hill, South Carolina. The Catawba were once considered one of the most powerful Southeastern Siouan-speaking tribes in the Carolina Piedmont. The Catawba and other Siouan peoples are believed to have coalesced as individual tribes in the Southeast. Living along the Catawba and Wateree River, which they called both iswa (“river”), they called themselves therefore Kawahcatawbas ("the people of the river").
Primarily involved in agriculture, the Catawba were friendly toward early European colonists. They were at almost constant war with tribes of other major language families: the Iroquois, who ranged south from the Great Lakes area and New York; the Algonquian Shawnee and Delaware; and the Iroquoian Cherokee, who fought for control over the large Ohio Valley (including what is now in present-day West Virginia). The Catawba allied during the American Revolutionary War with the Patriot colonists against the British. Decimated by earlier smallpox epidemics, tribal warfare and social disruption, the Catawba declined markedly in number in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The people ceded their homeland to South Carolina in 1840 by a treaty; it was not approved by the United States Senate and was automatically invalid.
Terminated as a tribe by the federal government in 1959, the Catawba Indian Nation reorganized to reassert its government. In 1973 began its struggle to gain federal recognition. It accomplished this in 1993, along with a $50 million settlement by the federal government and state of South Carolina of its longstanding land claims. It was also officially recognized by the state of North Carolina in 1993. Its headquarters is at Rock Hill, South Carolina.
As of 2006, the population of the Catawba Nation has increased to about 2600, most in South Carolina, with smaller groups in Oklahoma, Colorado, and elsewhere. The Catawba Reservation (34°54′17″N 80°53′01″W), located in two disjoint sections in York County, South Carolina east of Rock Hill, reported a 2010 census population of 841 inhabitants. The Catawban language, which is being revived, is part of the Siouan family (Catawban branch).