How many Native American tribes do you know? I’m willing to bet most Americans know fewer than ten. And there are 574 federally recognized tribes! Even more astounding, there are 400 tribes which are not currently recognized by the U.S. government!
How sad it must be to be part of a group that is not known or recognized.
One of the things I try to do when traveling is find out which tribes are from the area that I am visiting. I am always amazed at how many there used to be, as well as grateful that some still remain in their homelands. I also try to remember to check to see if there were any massacres of Native Americans in that vicinity. This may sound morbid, but I believe it’s really important for us to know about these extremely sad incidents in our history. The very first step is to recognize that they happened. I always want to go and pay my respects.
Recently I was in North Carolina, and this was how I found out about the Tuscarora, whom I had heard of, and the Tuscarora War, with which I was not familiar.
As with any historical incident, there are always at least two sides to the story. And it is sad and infuriating to me when history books and historical markers fail to give the whole story.
Over and over, as I’ve traveled the country and endeavored to find out where these massacres happened, I have learned there was usually the following pattern: A few indigenous men occasionally attacked and killed a few European settlers (colonists/immigrants/invaders–take your pick) for wrongs that were done to them (taking over excessive amounts of land, breaking treaties, disrespect or rape of women, etc.–take your pick), and then the Europeans would retaliate by killing an entire village–men, women, elders, children, and babies. The indigenous people would be demonized and the white people would never recognize or admit the wrongs they themselves had committed that contributed to all the animosity and violence that predictably ensued.
In the case of the Tuscarora, they had been kind enough to feed the settlers when they were starving. And the kindness and generosity were not reciprocated. Even John Lawson, who was known for taking over a lot of land lived upon by the native people, in his History of Carolina conceded that the Tuscarora were:
really better to us than we have been to them, as they always freely give us of their victuals at their quarters, while we let them walk by our doors hungry, and do not often relieve them. We look upon them with disdain and scorn, and think them little better than beasts in human form; while with all our religion and education, we possess more moral deformities and vices than these people do (Lawson 1718).
Basically, the whites continually took more and more land, seeing it as their right, refusing to acknowledge that the Tuscarora had lived and hunted, fished, and grown food in that area for a very long time. They also kidnapped Tuscarora men, women, and children and sold them into slavery.
Most of us, if our homes and fields were taken over by a foreign entity would fight, would we not?
There was fighting back and forth between the two sides for a couple hundred years. Sometimes the settlers persuaded other tribes to join them in the fight. All of the above led to a great slaughter at Fort Narhantes near New Bern, NC. More than 300 Tuscarora were killed and 100 taken prisoner.
I tried to find this site so I could offer prayers there. It was Fort Narhantes when the native people lived there and was later called Fort Barnwell. I journeyed from my campsite in New Berns to the village of Fort Barnwell. Once there, I asked a store clerk for directions to the old fort. She directed me to an old black man sitting at a nearby table whom she said had “lived here forever.” He told me where the fort was, but unfortunately it was on private grounds now and behind a locked gate. I could not access it.
So I decided to drive to the next site, more than an hour away. This was at Fort Nooherooka or Neherooka where a staggering 950 Tuscarora were killed or captured. The fort is no longer there because it was burned in 1713, along with all the Tuscarora men, women, and children inside. It is painful to even type those words.
I cannot imagine the grief of a people who lose so many in so short a time. How does one carry on in the face of such enormous loss?
I followed my GPS to the site of the memorial and arrived at a small triangular island between two country roads, surrounded by farm fields. The memorial at the apex of the triangle had room for only two or three cars next to it.
It was clear I would not have the luxury of privacy in which to offer prayers.
I did what I normally do. First I simply surveyed the site, read the signs, and looked at the images. I loved that on the arch an artist had incised subtle images of people, giving the impression of beings not quite fully present, perhaps in spirit form. Up on the arch were two metal carvings. The one on the left included a picture of a longhouse. This was because when the surviving Tuscarora realized there would be little peace in their homeland, many migrated north and joined the Haudenosaunee (the Iroquois), which means “people of the longhouse.” On that lefthand plaque were also a sacred tobacco plant and sacred ears of corn. On the sculpture on the right was a wampum belt. Wampum belts are a vital part of the Haudenosaunee culture.
After this, it was time to settle down–to sit, to feel, and to pray. I felt a bit awkward knowing that anyone driving by would see me. I sat on a low cement wall and subtly, gently shook my rattle and began to greet the spirits of the place. As my prayers continued, I finally lost my reserve. I was here to pray. If people saw me, so be it.
After I thanked the people for their lives and felt the sorrow of their deaths, I began to pray for the spirits who may have been stuck. This is what I consider the most important part of my work and my journey.
Over the years as I’ve done hospice work, cared for parents near the end of their lives, and dealt with many deaths of friends and caregiving clients, I’ve been doing research to learn as much as I can about the afterlife. We are living in a time during which many people who would have died a mere hundred years ago are now resuscitated with the medical technology we have available to us. This means we have thousands of people who have lived to tell the tale of their near-death experiences. Well, something I’ve learned along the way is that sometimes when people die suddenly and violently, their spirits are often caught in a denser plane that is closer to the earth. An elder with Cherokee blood taught my ministry school that we can do “psychopomp work” to help those spirits move on to a higher plane of light and healing. As it so happened, the weekend that she was teaching my class just happened to be not long after 9/11. Many spirits needed help moving on and she was able to demonstrate that for us.
I am not clairvoyant so I cannot see the spirits, but I learned through an experience at the Carlisle Indian Boarding School when trying to help the spirits of the children who had died there, that we can call in helping spirits and holy ones to assist those who are lost. When we ask for help, there are always beings available to assist. I can’t necessarily do the work on my own, but I can call in the Helpers and we can do it together.
As I’ve begun practicing this ritual more and more, I’ve learned that, after a while, I will feel lighter. This is my sign that the spirits have been helped. At this point, I feel great relief and gratitude.
There are many sites where indigenous people have been massacred, all across the continent, including Canada, Mexico, and the Carribean. In fact, as you surely know, there have been massacres and wars all over the world. And of course it is not only the indigenous people who have been killed. There are the dear children at school shootings as well as people of color and people of different faiths who have been targeted by the mentally unstable. So if you have any interest in learning this work, there is ample opportunity to employ it! Feel free to reach out to me if you want to learn some tips.
Meanwhile, bless these dear spirits–the children, the women, the men. May their souls find peace in the Land of their Ancestors among the stars.
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