OPINION: Beaver Tales: Political candidates overlook the struggles of the Tuscarora Nation in favor of potential swing vote in Robeson County

OPINION • By Rahnàwakęw Donnie McDowell • Recent media reports highlight that candidates running for NC Governor, such as Attorney General Josh Stein and Lt. Governor Mark Robinson, expressed their support for the Lumbee Tribe. Like President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden in 2020, Mr. Stein and Mr. Robinson publicly attested to Lumbee’s plight for federal acknowledgment. Neither candidate acknowledged the issues that Tuscarora citizens face, including the controversial development in Cedar Point and violations against Tuscarora’s sovereign and indigenous rights.

While several distinct nations of Original Peoples continue to exist in NC, many accepted communities are modern inventions. The other groups have recent origins besides the Eastern Band of Cherokee and the Tuscarora Nation. The Tuscarora treaties of the early 18th century validate the claims of the Tuscarora Nation and confirm that the NC Assembly created a nation-to-nation relationship between our ancestors and Great Britain. In a fact-based society, politicians and scholars cannot legitimize the hyperbole that the Tuscarora Nation of NC is “not recognized” by the state or federal governments.

Instead, those opposing Tuscarora tribal reaffirmation maintain that the Tuscarora are not contemporaneously “acknowledged” because our ancestors either wholly removed from the lands we once inhabited or went extinct. Before the Tuscarora Wars, the Tuscarora controlled the territory’s interior, and Skaru:re was the official trade language used to do business for Natives and settlers.  

However, the current criteria set by the Office of Federal Acknowledgement for achieving federal recognition favor the Tuscarora Nation over our nearest tribal neighbor. The Tuscarora Nation has existed since time immemorial, has a tribal language and culture, a documented history, intact tribal government, prior reservation lands, and historically resisted European expansion.

Centuries ago, our Tuscarora ancestors played a pivotal role in aiding the Carolina Colony during the upheaval of the Tuscarora and Yamasee Wars. They remained neutral in the Tuscarora Wars and actively defended the South Carolina territory in the Yamasee Wars. Following their service in these wars, which primarily benefitted the non-Native settlers, the NC Assembly assigned our Tuscarora ancestors to a reservation on the Roanoke River in Bertie County.

Despite the challenges of settler encroachment, acts of violence, and disenfranchisement policy, many Tuscarora were removed from the reservation only to resettle in what is today, Robeson County. The Tuscarora treaties, which expected the Tuscarora that remained allied to the NC colonists and Great Britain to send their children to English schools and convert to Christianity, are examples of intentional acts of genocide and erasure of our people and culture. Despite surviving this long legacy of assimilation and colonization, the Tuscarora Nation continues to be made invisible by state policy directed towards Tuscarora erasure.

By pledging support to the Tuscarora Nation, politicians could challenge the State to stop avoiding its obligation to honor the Tuscarora treaties and its relationship with our people. Because of the potential Lumbee swing vote, local and national political leaders are purposely overlooking the Tuscarora Nation and promoting the misconception that only a single tribe inhabits Robeson County.

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