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Robeson County Tuscaroras Seek Their Own Voice

LUMBERTON, NC -- In the shadow of Robeson County’s Lumbees is another group of Indians struggling for recognition -- the Tuscaroras.

In 1956, Congress passed an act that recognized all Indians in Robeson and surrounding counties as Lumbees. Members of the Tuscarora tribe say that has excluded them from receiving the housing, education and health benefits that come with recognition.

The Tuscaroras argue that there should have been a distinction between the Lumbees and the Tuscaroras in the 1956 act. Members of the Tuscarora Nation of the Kau-ta-noh -- one of four Tuscarora groups in the Robeson County region -- are seeking help from Congress to amend the act.

Representatives from the various groups have met with Rep. Mike McIntyre, Rep. Robin Hayes, Sen. John Edwards and Sen. Jesse Helms to ask for their support of an amendment. Now, they must wait.

“We believe the best way to approach the status claim is through Congress because Congress set in motion a number of problems when it passed the Lumbee Act,’’ said Robert Locklear, a spokesman for the Tuscarora Nation of the Kau-ta-noh. “At this point, no one knows what Congress will do.’’

Locklear, along with other Tuscaroras, says the 1956 act denies Tuscarora presence in the region.

The N.C. Commission on Indian Affairs does not have an estimate on the number of Tuscaroras in the state, but representatives of the different groups estimate there are 3,000 to 5,000 Tuscaroras in Robeson and surrounding counties. There are 46,000 Lumbees in the region.

“We have a language, cultural history and traditions that date back to when the Tuscaroras inhabited the land,’’ Locklear said. “We don’t believe or agree with the made-up name given to the Indians by this act because it would place us in cultural extinction, and we are not going to allow that to happen.’’

At one time, Tuscaroras inhabited land from near the Virginia state line almost to South Carolina. The tribe was forced to leave when white settlers moved into the area. During the late 1600s, the tribe was relocated to a reservation in Bertie County in northeastern North Carolina. The Tuscaroras were forced off the reservation once settlers realized the land was good for growing crops.

The Tuscaroras remained in North Carolina until the end of the Tuscarora War in 1713, then many migrated to New York and, in 1722, became the sixth nation to join the Iroquois Confederacy. By joining, the tribe was protected by the confederacy.

The Iroquois Confederacy consisted of Indian tribes that inhabited the upper New York area during the 17th and 18th centuries. The nations included the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca.

Those Tuscarora who stayed in North Carolina fled into the countryside, while others were loaded in wagons and taken to Robeson County, according to Dr. David Phelps of East Carolina University in Greenville. Phelps, a retired archaeology professor, has conducted archaeological digs for more than 10 years at Neoheroka -- the last Tuscarora fort during the Tuscarora War. The fort is near Snow Hill in Greene County.


Federal recognition would establish the Tuscaroras as a sovereign nation and enable the tribe to receive millions in aid for various programs. Programs for Indians in Robeson and surrounding counties are now provided through the Lumbee Regional Development Association, a private, nonprofit corporation. The association was formed in 1968 to provide services to Lumbee tribal members and to represent the tribe in regional, state and national affairs. In order for the Tuscaroras to receive benefits, they must enroll as a Lumbee tribal member.

“No amount of money or federal grants will cause a Tuscarora to give up his heritage,’’ Locklear said.

Exclusion from programs has been an issue for the tribe for some time, said Elijah Locklear, vice chief of the Tuscarora Tribe of North Carolina in Prospect, a small community in Robeson County.

“If you’re not a white-collar or well-to-do Lumbee Indian, then you’re left out,’’ Elijah Locklear said. “We have a lot of Indian people in substandard housing. Those who get nothing are living in rebuilt chicken houses.’’

The Tuscaroras are also excluded by some state legislation. A bill sponsored by state Rep. Ronnie Sutton of Robeson County, for example, would authorize state-recognized Indian tribes to set up their own governments. The Tuscaroras are not a state- recognized tribe. Sutton is a Lumbee.

Representatives from the different Tuscarora groups say they have no plans to create a nonprofit organization like the Lumbee Regional Development Association. The groups want to stick with traditional ways of administering aid to their members, said Robert Chavis, vice chief of the Tuscarora Nation East of the Mountains. The Tuscarora Nation East of the Mountains, which is based in Rowland, has 785 members, according to Chavis.

“We are not going to be like the LRDA in the fashion of being a tribal unit to a nonprofit that controls Indian money and help only those they want,’’ Chavis said. “We’re not all about money; we are about helping people.’’

Donnie Emmanuel, federal acknowledgment officer for the Tuscarora Nation of North Carolina headquartered in Maxton, said the group is at a standstill because of the Lumbee Act. The tribe cannot go through the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs for federal recognition because the Lumbee Act ties the tribe to the Lumbees, she said.

“Right now, we are trying to go through our congressional delegation to get an amendment in order to get the Tuscarora removed from this act,’’ she said. “This is the only way we can be federally recognized according to the (Bureau of Indian Affairs). That’s the only stone that stands in our way.’’


Rep. McIntyre, a Democrat from Lumberton, is a co-sponsor of the Indian Federal Recognition Administrative Procedures Act. The bill would create an independent commission to evaluate applications for federal recognition. The bill is pending in the House Resources Committee. A hearing on the bill has been requested, but a date has not been set.

The proposed commission would review applications, create grants for research, hold hearings and determine whether applicants are eligible for recognition.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has expressed support for the legislation. By establishing an independent commission, politics would not play a part in federal recognition and the process would be streamlined, McIntyre said in a statement.

“With the admission by the Bureau of Indian Affairs that the current process is broken, I hope that we can move in a direction where all non-federally recognized tribes, which would include the Tuscaroras, will have a fair opportunity at receiving federal recognition,’’ McIntrye said.

For now, the Tuscarora Nation East of the Mountains and the Tuscarora Tribe of North Carolina are pursuing federal recognition through the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The bureau’s Branch of Acknowledgment and Research determines whether a group receives federal recognition. The group seeking recognition must have documentation to meet the criteria outlined by the Branch of Acknowledgment and Research. Some of the criteria includes providing evidence that the group has been identified as an American Indian entity on a continuous basis since 1900, and at least 50 percent of the group members must maintain distinct cultural patterns such as language, kinship or religious practices.

It could be years before the groups receive federal recognition, if ever. The Lumbees have been seeking federal recognition for more than 20 years. It has been 30 years since the bureau gave federal recognition to a tribe in North Carolina, according to the North Carolina Commission on Indian Affairs. The only federally recognized tribe of the 11 in the state is the Eastern Band of Cherokee.

Milton Hunt, the chairman of the newly formed Tribal Council of the Lumbee Nation, said he doesn’t foresee any conflict as the two tribes attempt to gain federal recognition. “All I can say is good luck to them,” he said.

The Tuscarora Nation East of the Mountains has documents saying it is the certified nation for the Tuscaroras. The documents include an overview of the tribe’s history and genealogy. Officials with the Bureau of Indian Affairs certified the information, Chavis said.

The documents are on file with the bureau, and the tribe has maintained contact with bureau officials about its efforts to obtain federal recognition.

“We have 10 times the history, genealogy and roots than the Lumbees,’’ Chavis said. “So why is it hard for the state and federal government to realize that the Tuscaroras are here? The state and federal government knows exactly who we are. Yet, we don’t get money for health care, housing, anything. And that is sad.’’


The Tuscaroras were united in their efforts to gain federal recognition during the 1970s. Then, they were known as the Eastern Carolina Indian Organization. A grand council governed the group, Chavis said. The group disbanded because of dissatisfaction with its leadership.

“If we try to do that now, the various groups would be afraid that they would be bamboozled,’’ Chavis said. “The trust is real hard to gain. It would be nice to get together and work together. But there are some that don’t want to work with you. They want to be over you.’’

The Tuscarora Nation East of the Mountains has trouble putting all the power in the hands of one person, Chavis said. The group, like others, has a council of clan mothers and chiefs who make decisions on the tribe’s behalf.

The Tuscarora Nation of the Kau-ta-noh’s council follows the Iroquois’ “Great Law of Peace,’’ a tribal constitution that predates the U.S. Constitution, Robert Locklear said. The “Great Law of Peace’’ was established between 1000 and 1400 AD.

The Tuscarora Nation of the Kau-ta-noh has more than 300 members. Robert Locklear said the group will continue to pursue federal status with or without help from the other Tuscarora groups, but it plans to talk with the other Tuscarora groups about pursuing federal recognition for the entire tribe.

Members of the Tuscarora Nation of the Kau-ta-noh have invited leaders of the other Tuscarora groups to meet with them to talk about the issue.

Elijah Locklear said the Tuscaroras would be more successful if all of the groups worked together. But, he said, there are too many who want to assume the leadership role.

“A lot of folks want to be the high hog at the trough,’’ he said. “There is jealousy, and that’s what has kept us apart.’’

From The Fayetteville Observer

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