Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Catawba pursued a subsistence routine that balanced agriculture with hunting, fishing, and gathering. The staples of their diet were maize and venison. The peltry procured by the hunters was in great demand by European traders, who arrived in the late seventeenth century. By the middle of the eighteenth Century, however, the deerskin trade had declined, and the Catawba had to find other ways to acquire the European goods—firearms, clothing, kettles—that had become necessities. While continuing to hunt, farm, and fish, they also leased Reservation land to Whites after 1763 and peddled household goods, especially pottery, throughout the region. With the loss of the reservation in 1840, many became sharecroppers on nearby farms or earned a living selling firewood. Today most Catawba are employed in local industry; many are professionals or tradespeople.
Industrial Arts. Aboriginal craftspeople produced pottery, baskets, and other items. Today some thirty Catawba potters continue to practice their ancient craft regularly, and another sixty do so occasionally.
Trade. In aboriginal times Catawba carried on an extensive trade with neighboring groups in deerskins, natural dyes, and other products. Trade with European colonists included slaves, peltry, and baskets in exchange for firearms, alcohol, cloth, beads, and other items. The pottery trade, which began in the late eighteenth century, continues today.
Division of Labor. Until the end of the eighteenth Century, women were responsible for farming, dressing animal skins, cooking, making pottery and baskets, and raising the children. The men hunted, fished, traded, and cleared new fields. The decline of the deerskin trade reduced the men's economic importance without substantially altering the division of labor; not until the end of the nineteenth century did men begin to replace women in performing agricultural tasks. Making and peddling pottery, which was primarily the responsibility of the women, was central to the Catawba Economy until World War II. Today the division of labor mirrors that of the surrounding society.
Land Tenure. Little is known of Catawba land tenure in aboriginal times, but usufruct probably prevailed, with ultimate ownership residing in the community, but individual or familial rights to a tract respected as long as that tract was used. The reservation established in 1763 placed all lands under tribal authority, though particular families may have held the right to collect rent from certain tracts leased to Whites. On the state and federal reservations individuals "owned" a tract of land, with the right to rent it out and leave it to their heirs. When the "new" federal reservation was sold in 1962, Catawbas could choose a cash settlement or a tract of land; 286 of the 631 people on the tribal roll chose cash. Today on the "old" (state) reservation, a Catawba must apply to the tribal council for an allotment.