The following is a guest post from Donnie Rahnàwakęw McDowell, the Public Relations Officer at the Tuscarora Nation of North Carolina. If you would like to submit community content for The Cary Report, please use our contact form.
Today, the descendants of the Tuscarora Nation that remain in the State of North Carolina continue to resist misconceptions caused by historical trauma. In the early 18th century, the English Colonies under the control of Great Britain located in the Carolina region began a campaign of encroachment into lands belonging to the ancestors of the Tuscarora Nation. The Tuscarora Nation had villages stretching from the coast on the Cape Fear River near what is today Wilmington, and on the Neuse River in what today is Cary and Durham. Along the Neuse, the Tuscarora gathered plants and roots, farmed, trapped, fished, and hunted small and big game such as rabbits, deer, and even buffalo. Conflicts erupted when a colony of Swiss and German Palatines established a settlement that displaced the entirety of the Tuscarora village, Chattoka. Rivals of the Tuscarora joined the colonists in attempts to break Tuscarora control of the Carolina interior. Although peace treaties were signed by the Tuscarora and Great Britain through the English Colonies, modern-day Indian policies ignore this historical relationship. The exclusion of the Tuscarora illustrates that the state and federal governments continue their policy of erasing the Tuscarora from the State’s relative memory. The relationships revealed in the colonial treaties authenticate the claims of the Tuscarora Nation of North Carolina (TNNC) as a sovereign indigenous nation. The continued violations of the Tuscarora Treaties should be a cause of concern for all indigenous nations across Turtle Island.
Following the Tuscarora Wars, multiple treaties were concluded between the ancestors of the TNNC and the English Colonies of Virginia and North Carolina. As early as 1711, the Virginia Board of Trade recorded their relationship with the neutral Tuscarora villages under the leadership of Tuscarora ancestor Chief Tom Blount. At the same time, the VA Council also passed a set of laws drafting a fund for the expenses of carrying on a war with hostile Tuscarora villages in the southern territories. After major skirmishes in 1712, a thorough peace treaty was concluded between the neutral villages under Chief Blount and the English Colony of NC. This treaty recorded some of the earliest forms of documented assimilation policy against Indigenous nations in the Carolina region. For instance, articles laid out the terms of requiring the Tuscarora villages to send their children to English schools, to learn Christianity, and to ignore land claims formerly under the control of the southern villages. While these peace treaties did not cull the conflict entirely, they did document the authentic claims of the TNNC communities that remained in the state following the Wars. Another treaty between the neutral Tuscarora villages and the English Colony of VA in 1713 is quite extensive. This treaty laid out similar terms to that of the Tuscarora Treaty of 1712 with the NC Colony and mandated policies to “civilize” the Tuscarora communities. Treaty agreements between the neutral Tuscarora villages and the NC Colonial Assembly in 1717 established the Indian Woods reservation along the Roanoke River. Meanwhile, other Tuscarora communities removed by the Wars sought refuge with the Haudenosaunee Confederacy in New York.
Illegal land leases, and uninterrupted settler encroachment, influenced many Tuscarora families to join earlier migrations to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, as well as join neighboring Tuscarora strongholds in southeast NC. Laws passed from 1778 to 1835 publicly restricted the rights, privileges, claims, and identity of the ancestors of the TNNC and other Indigenous communities that survived Indian Removal. This prevented the Tuscarora from practicing many forms of traditional subsistence, including fishing, hunting, and trapping along the Roanoke, Pamlico, Tar, Neuse and Cape Fear Rivers. Even though the lands belonging to the Tuscarora Nation were closed and sold by the NC Assembly in 1830, many Tuscarora families remained hidden in their respective homelands. Families from the Neuse and Roanoke Rivers made the swamps of Robeson County their final exodus. For example, in testimony by Adjutant General John C. Gorman, the Lowry families migrated to the Robeson County swamps to avoid continued encroachment by settlers. Tuscarora ancestor, Henry Berry Lowry, was identified in investigations into the Lowry War against the Robeson County Confederate Home Guard. This conflict arose from Confederate soldiers capturing and forcing Tuscarora men to work at the conscription camps at Fort Fisher, Wilmington. The fact that a myriad of official State and Federal documents verify the claims of the TNNC illustrates that they have achieved multiple forms of state and federal acknowledgement.
Despite efforts to ignore the claims of the Tuscarora Nation, relationships with the Haudenosaunee Confederacy influenced their communities to begin the act of decolonization. These relationships, which rekindled in the late 1920s, aided the TNNC in making the first step toward political and cultural revival. In the 1970s and 80s, activism to have previous treaty rights, lands, and status reaffirmed brought national awareness to the conditions of the Tuscaroras that remained in the state. Communication between the state and federal governments has consistently acknowledged the Tuscarora Nation as an Indigenous tribe which has existed since aboriginal times. Yet, efforts to have the status of the Tuscarora people reaffirmed continue to be ignored creating the misrepresentation that the TNNC is not an Indigenous tribe. Exclusion of the NC Tuscarora communities from programs designed for Indigenous nations has placed an unimaginable burden on the Tuscarora people and left their communities vulnerable to discrimination. Leaders of the TNNC have marched with Indigenous nations across Turtle Island during the Trail of Broken Treaties, the BIA Takeover, and were adamant supporters of the American Indian Movement. This continued oppression against the TNNC violates the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. By removing previous Tuscarora settlements from the Neuse River, the State Assembly attempted to erase their claims to hunt, fish, and access the waterways they once controlled. This trend of violating the Tuscarora treaties creates an environment that ignores the authentic claims of sovereign nations and causes harm to the rights and status of tribes across Turtle Island.