MAXTON —Leaders of the Tuscarora Nation of North Carolina on Friday asked state Sen. Jane Smith for help in cutting through all the bureaucratic red tape standing in the way of their gaining state recognition.
Smith, a Democrat from Lumberton, said she was surprised when told about the Tuscarora’s inability to get any action on their petition for state recognition from the N.C. Commission of Indian Affairs. The petition for recognition was presented four years ago and to date still has not been acted on, according to Mitchell Locklear, beaver chief of the Tuscarora Nation in Maxton.
Smith listened attentively to the concerns of Tuscarora leaders who said that state recognized tribes with representatives on the commission will not step forward and support their cause. How tribal representatives vote and address issues are dictated by Lumbee commission members and Greg Richardson, executive director of the state commission, Locklear said.
Locklear was clear in his comments to Smith that it is not the Lumbee people who the Tuscarora are putting the most blame on for keeping their petition for recognition from moving forward.
“We have been so mistreated here by the government,” Locklear said. “It is not the Lumbee people. …We dislike what is being done on the Indian Commission. All those tribes on the commission are puppets and Greg Richardson is the puppeteer pulling the strings.”
Smith made it clear to the Tuscarora leaders that although she will look into their concerns, she will in no way become involved in what she referred to as “disagreements between Indian tribes.”
“I have a number of Indian groups that are in my district, which includes Robeson and Columbus counties. All of them are important to me,” she said. “I can’t get involved in a fight between my different constituencies.”
Locklear said that he and his people are becoming frustrated at the system which he said is politically biased.
“Somebody needs to do something,” he said. “It’s time for us to get up and fight for what is right. If something isn’t done soon there are going to be protests on the grounds (of the commission in Raleigh).”
Locklear and other Tuscarora leaders present at Friday’s meeting on Tuscarora grounds in Maxton said that without state recognition, they can’t apply for state or federal grants. They also can’t receive state benefits that could lead to improved housing, education and jobs for Tuscarora tribal members.
According to William Maxwell, a graduate student at the University of North Carolina who is studying Tuscarora culture, the N.C. Commission of Indian Affairs made it clear at a recent meeting that the recognition petition submitted by the Tuscarora will not be responded to anytime soon.
“They say there is only one staff member to write the response,” he said. “They say that person has a lot of other responsibilities.”
The Robesonian on Friday afternoon was unable to reach Richardson for a comment on this story.