Tuscarora Nation renews push for state recognition in NC after decades of exclusion

The Tuscarora Nation of North Carolina, a Native American tribe centered in Robeson County, is once again seeking official recognition from the state.

Speaking at the legislature on Tuesday, Chief Cecil Hunt said the Tuscarora “have been maligned and outright bullied by intertribal prejudice” from the Commission of Indian Affairs, which has repeatedly denied efforts to recognize the tribe.

Tuscarora representatives gathered with Rep. Ed Goodwin, a Chowan County Republican who filed a bill earlier this month to recognize the tribe.

Without state recognition, members of the Tuscarora Nation are excluded from several benefits typically afforded to Native American tribes.

“We are no longer able to compete in powwows, enter our art into exhibits, be eligible for scholarships or enjoy adorning our high school seniors with feathers to wear at graduations,” Eudora Locklear, a Tuscarora member, said.

In addition to recognizing the tribe, Goodwin’s bill would give the Tuscarora representation on the Commission of Indian Affairs and update state websites to include the tribe.

Repeated efforts to recognize Tuscarora

The tribe has between 500 and 900 members, a representative of the tribe estimated in 2019.

Goodwin, who said he grew up around members of the Tuscarora, said he has filed a bill to recognize the tribe every session since he was elected in 2018, but it has never made it to a vote.

“I can’t believe at this time in our history, we’re taking a people who were Native Americans, who were here before all the rest of us were here, and we’re treating them this way,” Goodwin said.

Goodwin said nobody in legislative leadership had given him a sufficient explanation for why they had not acted on his efforts to recognize the Tuscarora.

Representatives for House Speaker Tim Moore did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether he would move the bill forward this year.

Recognition for NC tribes

North Carolina currently recognizes eight Native American tribes, though only one of them, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, has full federal recognition.

The Lumbee Tribe is recognized by the state, but has fought unsuccessfully for full federal recognition for over a century. In 1956, Congress passed a bill recognizing the Lumbee as an American Indian tribe, but did not grant the tribe the typical benefits associated with federal recognition.

North Carolina’s U.S. senators, Thom Tillis and Ted Budd, introduced a bill in Congress last year to grant recognition to the Lumbee Tribe, but it never got a vote.

While achieving state recognition would not make the Tuscarora eligible for many grants and benefits afforded to federally recognized tribes, members of the tribe said it was an important first step.

The Tuscarora Nation has unsuccessfully sought state recognition for decades. Most recently, in 2019, the Commission of Indian Affairs denied the tribe’s petition for recognition, calling it a “splinter group” of the Lumbee Tribe.

At a hearing of the commission in 2019, a spokesperson for the Tuscarora accused the Lumbee Tribe of trying to block their recognition, noting that Lumbee leaders were part of the commission deciding on the petition.

The News & Observer wasn’t immediately able to reach a representative of the Commission of Indian Affairs for comment on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, representatives of the Tuscarora Nation again rejected the idea that they were a subset of the Lumbee, saying they have their own distinct cultural identities, ceremonial practices and languages.

As a young boy, my grandfather always told me ‘son, your people are Tuscarora,’” Hunt said. “So how can I be anything other than that?”

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