Right now, North Carolina is at the beginning of a four year long celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. However, September 22, 2011 is the 300th anniversary of the beginning of the Tuscarora War in North Carolina. Though long forgotten, it was just as important to North Carolina as the Civil War.
At dawn on September 22, 1711, after years of abuse by settlers and traders, 500 warriors from the Neuse River Tuscaroras, Cores, Pamlicos, Machapungas, Neuse, and Bay River Indians attacked plantations and farms between the Pamlico and Neuse Rivers. Within hours over 130 settlers were killed, many more wounded, and a few score taken prisoner. The area was devastated and the North Carolina colonial government was powerless to respond. It took two expeditions from South Carolina and their Siouan, Yamasee, and Cherokee allies to bring an end to the war. By the time the fighting ended in 1715, hundreds of eastern North Carolina Indians had been killed, while well over a thousand had been marched off to South Carolina as slaves. Those who survived either left the colony, faded into the swamps, or became “tributary Indians” to North Carolina. With eastern North Carolina Indian power broken, now the way was open for the settlement of the Piedmont .
In a way, the Tuscarora War set the colony, and later the state of North Carolina, on its present path of Indian relations – making Indian nations into tributaries. As tributaries, Indian nations paid a few deer skins to the governor each year as a symbol of the authority of the North Carolina government over them. The North Carolina government approved who could be “chief,” could set up and assign Indians to reservations, and essentially make law for the Indians. The federal government took much the same tactic when it came into being in 1788. However, though they were “tributary nations,” there was still an implicit recognition by North Carolina that they were “Indians” and a separate political entity with certain rights and privileges. “Domestic dependant nations” would be how the United States Supreme Court would define them in 1831.
Fast forward to 2011. North Carolina has a Native American population that is pushing toward a hundred thousand. In fact, it has the largest American Indian population of any state east of the Mississippi River. It has one federally recognized Indian tribe – the Eastern Band of Cherokees near Cherokee, NC – and eleven tribes or organizations only state-recognized. These include the Lumbees of Robeson County, Coharies in Clinton, Haliwa-Saponis in Hollister, Meherrins in Winton, Occaneechis in Mebane, Sappony in Roxboro, Waccamaw Siouans in Bolton, and four urban Indian organizations: Cumberland County Association for Indian People in Fayetteville, Guilford Native American Association in Greensboro, Metrolina Native American Association in Charlotte, and the Triangle Native American Society in Raleigh. While these state-recognized tribes and organizations can elect their own leaders now, they are still very much in the eyes of North Carolina “tributary nations.”
Back in the 1990s, when the Eastern Band of Cherokees wanted to open a casino on reservation lands, something allowed them by the federal government, the North Carolina government at first wouldn’t even negotiate with them. It took prodding by the federal government and years of negotiation between the tribe and North Carolina before the Cherokees got their casino. But the state only allowed video games and slots while helping itself to a hefty cut of the take worth millions of dollars annually.
For the Lumbees of Robeson County, descendants of shattered Siouan nations from the Carolina Piedmont, such as the Cheraw, it would have been better had they fought a war with the United States. That would have generated a peace treaty, implicit recognition as an Indian nation, and probably a reservation. With only a quasi-recognition by the federal government, the Lumbees have an almost tributary status with North Carolina. Recent Lumbee discussions on creating a reservation have been strongly rebuffed by many citizens and state officials, believing a reservation will lead to casino gambling.
Who knows what will become of these Indian endeavors. But here on the 300th anniversary of the Tuscarora War, the outcome of that war still haunts both Native North Carolinians and the North Carolina government.