Letter to the Editor: Development uproots Tuscarora Nation artifacts, discovers ancestral remains

Published 6:21 pm Saturday, July 6, 2024

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To the Editor:

The ancestors of the Tuscarora Nation of North Carolina traditionally occupied the lands surrounding the Roanoke, Pamlico, Tar, Neuse, and Cape Fear Rivers. Since settling along these lands, our ancestors extended their reach and hunted as far north as the Chesapeake Bay and South as the PeeDee River. Surrounding the Tuscarora lay the Algonkians east in the Outer Banks, the PeeDee and Catawba to the South, the Cherokee to the west, and the Powhatan Chiefdom north. Most historians agree that the Tuscarora once controlled the lands from the Atlantic coast to the mountains and southern Virginia to northern South Carolina. Our extended kin, allies, and rivals occupied nearby regions as well. However, with our entry into the region thousands of years ago, we became a significant force throughout these lands described above, including co-inhabiting regions with our tribal neighbors. Housing developments in Carteret County, specifically on the county’s west side, are unearthing critical cultural artifacts and ancestral remains that belong to the Tuscarora and our extended kin. Before the arrival of Europeans, the Tuscarora had immediate access to the coast and its seas, the fish and natural resources, and trade with our Algonkian neighbors and allies. Seasonal fishing encampments were traditionally occupied along the beach during winter when large game hibernated and birds migrated further south. Cultivating shellfish, manufacturing wampum, gathering salt, and other traditional subsistence practices are documented in the shell middens, ossuaries, and habitation sites all along the coast. With warmer seasons, Tuscarora clans would migrate back to the mainland and prepare the longhouses for big game hunts and farming operations. Following the bison, deer, bear, and other game, Tuscarora hunters would leave large groups as far away as Wake County to feed entire villages. Tuscarora women grew the crops, including the three sisters, and would forage for nuts, berries, and roots to provide a diverse and nutrient-rich diet for their families. Upon European encroachment, Tuscarora villages immediately left more coastal territories for mainland Tuscarora encampments. These seasonal and contact-related migrations have made it hard for scholars such as archeologists and anthropologists to both study and fully comprehend Tuscarora’s history, culture, and people.

After Chief Hancock’s defeat, the South Carolina militia forced the Tuscarora Lower Towns to relinquish their claim to lands between the Neuse and Cape Fear Rivers. Consequently, about half of the Tuscarora who remained after the wars migrated to New York to join the Haudenosaunee, while the other half remained in the State. Several treaties passed with Chief Tom Blount and representatives of adjoining Upper Towns and the British Colonies of Carolina and Virginia established a government-to-government relationship with the Tuscarora Nation and its people. Multiple state laws passed during the colonial era and post-Revolution exemplify that the Tuscarora Nation has been recognized as an American Indian Tribe for centuries. Nonetheless, centuries of official investigations by the State of North Carolina and the Federal Government authenticates the claims of the Tuscarora families that resisted Indian Removal by hiding in the Robeson County swamps. Encroachment, warfare, and forced removal influenced the Tuscarora that continued to persist at the Indian Woods reservation in Bertie County on the Roanoke River to resettle far away from immediate contact with British colonists. The centuries of dislocation from our ancestral homelands have left our ancient and historical occupation, burial, and traditional subsistence sites at risk of being damaged or erased by commercial and industrial construction projects. From our evidence, our Tuscarora ancestors occupied Carteret County territory, which the settler society has appropriated and illegally annexed as Cape Lookout, Beaufort, Harkers Island, Adams Creek, South River, and Merrimon. Tuscarora villages, which belonged to our bands of the incorporated Coree and Neusioc, were the first of our ancestors to meet the British explorers who attempted to establish Sir Walter Raleigh’s Colony. After the Tuscarora Wars, Tuscarora’s control over the area broke, allowing settlers to migrate into Carteret’s interior.

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Today, reporters and state archaeologists claim that the current assemblages found in Cedar Point in Carteret represent one of the most significant archaeological discoveries in recent years. The State’s Chief Archaeologist, Chris Southerly, told Axios in a letter from the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources that the Bridge View housing Development included thousands of artifacts and burial grounds up to 3,000 years old. While the NC DNC has yet to consult with the Tuscarora Nation regarding the current findings in Carteret County, the agency violates several articles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People by not consulting with the Tuscarora Nation. For instance, Article 12 maintains that States should protect Indigenous sites and that Indigenous People should have access to them, which includes the right to repatriate all ancestral remains and cultural belongings. On another note, Articles 18 & 19 claim that States should consult with and inform Indigenous Peoples regarding legislative or administrative action that impacts their rights. The NC General Assembly, the NC DNC, and the Commission of Indian Affairs consulted with the Tuscarora Nation about the impact that HB 385 would have on tribal communities. Through this neglect, the developers, the County of Carteret, the NC DNC, and the General Assembly violate other UNDRIP Articles. Article 25 is supposed to maintain and strengthen Indigenous Peoples’s traditional relationship with the lands they once occupied or used. Also, Article 32 promotes Indigenous Peoples’ right to decide effective measures to mitigate the adverse environmental, cultural, and spiritual impact of the lands we once occupied and currently occupy or use. The unearthing, removal, and destruction of Tuscarora ancestral remains and cultural belongings is immoral, unethical, and a violation of state and federal laws. According to UNDRIP, the Tuscarora Nation of NC should have been notified, consulted with, and allowed the opportunity to mitigate adverse impacts to the land, our ancestors, and our belongings. While critically preserving colonial and historical non-Native cemeteries and occupation sites from destruction by local and foreign companies, the State is denying Native burial mounds and sites the same respect and protection.

Cecil Hunt, Saddletree Community

Stanford Locklear, Prospect Longhouse

Onyas Locklear, Maxton Longhouse