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Tuscarora Tribe Protests Highway Named For Jackson

FAIR BLUFF, NC -- Some Tuscarora Indians are circulating a petition to have Andrew Jackson’s name removed from U.S. 74.

The highway, which runs through North Carolina from Wrightsville Beach to near Asheville, was named after Jackson -- the seventh U.S. president -- in 1963. It was built in 1927.

The highway is signed Andrew Jackson through parts of Union, Anson, Richmond, Columbus and Scotland counties. It is also known as the future Interstate 74.

Robert O’Tah Chavis, vice chief of Tuscaroras East of the Mountains Tribal Council, says that when he drives on the highway his heart sinks.

‘‘The highway cuts through the heart of Indian Country in North Carolina,” Chavis said. ‘‘It’s an abomination. It’s tantamount to naming the federal highway in front of the Holocaust Museum the Adolf Hitler Highway.”

Chavis, Chief Charles Locklear and 708 tribal members started the petition. They want the road’s name changed to the First American Highway or the Native American Highway, or remove Andrew Jackson’s name.

‘‘The time for stoicism is over,” Chavis said. ‘‘It’s time to do something about it. Many times I’ve wanted to stop my car and take the signs down, but I always stayed within the law.” So far, the council has gathered nearly 3,000 signatures from residents in Scotland, Columbus, Robeson and New Hanover counties, Chavis said.

The tribe wants to get at least 40,000 more signatures before presenting it to the state Department of Transportation.

The Tuscaroras have tried before to get the name changed, said Sandy Nance, assistant to the N.C. Department of Transportation highway administrator.

‘‘This is the same group of people with the same objections,” Nance said.

The Tuscaroras sent petitions to the department in July 1980 and in December 1994.

‘‘The department did not act on their requests before, but it’s been a few years,” Nance said. ‘‘Boards change, policies change and opinions change.”

‘‘I’ve never seen the name for a road or bridge changed once it’s been approved by the board,” she said.

The process for renaming a road or bridge should involve getting the support of local governments first, Nance said.

Chavis said he and other Tuscaroras compare Andrew Jackson to Adolf Hitler. ‘‘Jackson was responsible for the slaughter and forced removal of thousands of American Indians, as Hitler did to the Jews,” he said.

Jackson, whose portrait appears on the $20 bill, was influential in getting the Indian Removal Act of 1830 passed. He also created legislation leading to the ‘‘Trail of Tears.”

The Trail of Tears began in December 1835 in the Southeast and ended in 1849 in Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. Various sources estimate that 13,000 to 17,000 Indians from different tribes were forced from their lands by U.S. troops.

The Indians walked hundreds of miles through harsh conditions. Thousands died along the way, Chavis said.

‘‘The government chose to name the highway Andrew Jackson without respect to the Native Americans, who died because of his legislation,” Chavis said.

(From the Fayetteville Observer-Times)