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North Carolina House bill would grant recognition to the Tuscarora Nation of North Carolina

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North Carolina House bill would grant recognition to the Tuscarora Nation of North Carolina

May 22, 2024 | 5:00 am ET
By Ahmed Jallow
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North Carolina House bill would grant recognition to the Tuscarora Nation of North Carolina
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Flanked by members of the Tuscarora Nation, Rep. Goodwin (R-Chowan) spoke Tuesday at a Legislative Building press conference. (Photo: Ahmed Jallow)

Members of the Tuscarora Nation of North Carolina held a press conference Tuesday morning at the North Carolina General Assembly to urge lawmakers to support House Bill 970. The bill would grant state recognition to the Tuscarora Nation. 

Representatives of the group say they have faced mistreatment in their pursuit of state recognition, accusing the state Commission of Indian Affairs and its allies of engaging in “intertribal prejudice” against the Tuscarora people.  

“We have been maligned and outright bullied by intertribal prejudice from the Commission of Indian Affairs and its allies,” said Cecil Hunt who has served as chief of the Tuscarora Nation for the past 50 years 

The tribe has long sought formal recognition from the state, arguing it is essential to preserve its culture and traditions. State recognition would make the Tuscarora Nation eligible for federal recognition, which would qualify them for federal programs and services designated for indigenous communities.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Edward C. Goodwin (R-Chowan), also includes a provision for representation on the state Commission of Indian Affairs. 

Rep. Goodwin said he has heard stories about the Tuscarora community from his Cherokee family members growing up. He has since vowed to fight for the group’s recognition. 

“Every year I have tried to get a recognition bill passed for the Tuscarora, every year I have been shut down,” Goodwin said holding back tears.  

“I can’t believe at this time in our history we’re taking a people group — Native American people group here before all the rest of us were here — and we’re treating them the way we’re treating them. It’s not right.” 

Hunt said he has been fighting for tribal recognition throughout his life and hopes to see it achieved during his lifetime. 

“My grandfather always told me, ‘Son, your people are Tuscarora,’” the 81-year-old chief said. “So how can I be anything other than that? It has been an honor to fight for my people, which I have spent all my life doing. I want to see my people’s status restored in my lifetime.” 

Donnie Rahnàwakew McDowell, public relations officer for the Tuscarora, cited treaties, state laws and federal census records as confirmation of the longstanding relationship between the Tuscarora people and the state government. 

“By neglecting this relationship, the state has avoided its responsibility to the Tuscarora people.” McDowell said that by acknowledging this relationship, North Carolina can take the first step of “honoring their responsibilities to the Tuscarora Nation.”  

Other speakers say recognition would allow them to access important resources for their community, including healthcare, family services, education, and economic development opportunities. 

“We are simply asking for equality and to be reaffirmed by the state as a distinct indigenous tribe,” said Eudora Locklear. “For generations, we have endured the systematic exclusion of our Tuscarora people from these programs. Thus, we are not … eligible for scholarships or enjoy adorning our high school seniors with feathers to wear graduations, or even apply for help with housing, jobs utilities, many of which are grant funded programs.”  

Goodwin attributed the lack of traction for the bill over the years to “politics.” He vowed to keep fighting for its passage every year.