Author Archives: Laurie Godwin

Matrilineal Culture of the Tuscarora Nation

Matrilineal Culture of the Tuscarora Nation

by Samantha Sheffield, ECU Public History major

As I undertook this research I came to find that very little information on the Tuscarora matrilineal practices exists.  All the information below is from an interview on November 8, 2012 with members of the Tuscarora Nation primarily Francine Patterson, White Bear Clan Mother.


Like many of the native populations in the Americas the Tuscarora Nation practiced a matrilineal system of identification.  While not a true matriarchy, the women did not rule over the clans, they did appoint the leaders and ancestry was traced through the female line.  The structure of the Tuscarora society is based around the clans.  Each have a male leader who is a chief and then the chiefs meet together in a council where they discuss issues and come to an agreement on how to proceed; much like American democracy.

The clan mother is responsible for appointing the clan chiefs.  A clan mother is a leader who is chosen by her clan because she has good leadership qualities, is highly respected, and is educated in the traditions and ways of the clan. She also is the “ears” for the male chief.

When the clan mother chooses the chief she looks for leadership qualities, strength of character, as well as what they call a “seven span thickness of skin.” This is the ability to take the abuses thrown at any leader who makes unpopular decisions.  Though the decision making is then left to the male chiefs the clan mother does have the ability to “chastise” the chief.  This is an important and rarely used right only when the chief has done something greatly opposed to the cultural traditions and is need of censure.

In the home life of the clans, families historically occupied a longhouse together.  When women married they did not leave home as in European cultures. They stayed and the men who moved into her family home.  Additionally, their children associate with the mother’s clan.  For instance, if a female White Bear marries a man from the Beaver clan, he leaves home and moves into her family’s longhouse.  Though he maintains his connection to the Beaver clan all their children are White Bears.  While today Tuscarora do not live in longhouses they still practice the matrilineal customs, meaning the children are still born into their mother’s clan.  This can create difficulties when Tuscarora men marry out of the nation because then their children have no clan and are no longer Tuscarora.

Historically, women and children were responsible for planting and harvesting while the men were the hunters. Education of both girls and boys was undertaken by the women, especially in the traditions of each clan.  Today education in the clan culture and providing for the family are undertaken by both parents.

Though the Tuscarora had to survive near annihilation they were able to survive and keep their family traditions present in their lives through today.  The women who fought ferociously against the English forces to protect their children inside the Fort Nooheruka can be still be found in the Tuscarora women today.  They have chosen their chiefs well and fought bravely to survive into the twenty-first century.



By Victoria Albanese, East Carolina University History and Philosophy Major

What is Repatriation?

In general, repatriation refers to the process by which one restores or returns a person or item back to the country of origin, allegiance, or citizenship.
This is familiar to most as the returning of a soldier’s body or belongings back to his or her homeland after war.

Archaeologists’ main objective is to find artifacts and remnants of history where ever they go, but what happens when they come across something that shouldn’t be taken from the site?
This is where repatriation becomes of use.

Many times archaeologists take from their excavations items that were at one point owned by a Native American tribe. If a present-day tribe finds that items or remains of their ancestors have been taken from the site, they may claim rights to them and request the repatriation of the items or remains.

What is the repatriation process?

For the sake of understanding, the process will be explained through an example of a Native American tribe requesting repatriation from a museum where remains or items would be held.

The first step consists of a formal request written by tribe members asking for items to be returned to the tribe. This request must be in writing using the tribe’s letterhead, and proof of lineage should be included as validation for which tribe is sending the request.

Next, detailed documentation verifies the origins of the objects taken by the museum or company. This documentation includes a crucial checklist containing:

  • A listing of skeletal remains present
  • Photographs and radiographs
  • Age and sex of each individual
  • Condition of the remains
  • Differences in bone shape
  • Modification of the bone
  • Information on diet and health from skeletal remains

After the documentation has been completed, a consultation is held during which requests for cultural objects are evaluated as to whether they fit the definitions of objects impacted by the law or covered by the museum’s right of possession.

When the consultation has satisfied both parties, the museum from which the items or remains will be returned should prepare a final comprehensive report of the repatriation. This report is considered the museum’s official response to the repatriation request.

The museum then makes recommendations for the items’ dispositions, and the report is distributed to culturally affiliated, federally recognized tribes and any other potentially affected parties once authorized.

Next is a review of the report by the requesting Native community.
Once satisfied (and depending upon the particular circumstances of the case), arrangements may be made for return following a 30-day period for public notice.

After Repatriation:

Once the items have been returned, the tribe can do with them whatever they please. For the Tuscarora, the event in March will not only commemorate the Battle at Nooherooka, but will also serve as a time for the reburial of remains discovered at the site. Details of the ceremony are very protected and classified. In the case of the Tuscarora, the date and time of the reburial is unknown, and the ceremony is normally restricted to those authorized to perform the ceremony.

Legislation Pertaining to Repatriation:

American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA) – 1978

The National Museum of the American Indian Act (NMAIA) – 1989

Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) – 1990


  • “Documentation of Human Remains at the National Museum of Natural History.” N.p. Web. <>
  • Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. 11. New York: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2008. Print.
  • Mihesuah, Devon Abbott. Repatriation Reader, Who Owns American Indian Remains?. Bison Books, 2000. Print.
  • Fenn, Elizabeth, et al. The Way We Lived in North Carolina . United States of America: The University of North Carolina Press , 2003. Print.
  • Watkins, Joe. Sacred Sites and Repatriation. Chelsea House, 2006. Print.
  • “The Repatriation Process.” Repatriation Office. N.p.. Web. 6 Dec 2012. <>.

Teresa Morris

Please know that you and the good folks working together on the upcoming 300th are surely in my thoughts and prayers as you answer your higher calling on various levels.

On a personal note….

I am one voice….one face….one lifelong student….one teacher living right here on the homefront that serves as a multi-generational reminder of those Ancestors having come before me. May we acknowledge….honor….remember those having come before…including individuals noted as Ancestors having chosen to NEVER leave eastern~coastal NC.

I embrace all branches of my family tree.  This includes my local indigenous roots and roots from foreign shores.  (By divine grace…. I continue being a lifelong student…a work in progress.)

The following is a quote (lifted from a little book for young students) that I was moved to write a few years ago.

Teresa Morris Quote:

“The elders have taught us that in everything we do, we must consider how it will affect the next Seven Generations.  The idea is that if each Generation did this we would all be taken care of, because our beloved Ancestors will have cleared the path for us to travel forward….in a good way.

Long ago our Ancestors walked this land and fished these living waters.  This was their birthing place…resting place…original homeland…Promised Land~created to be held in a Living Trust, not just by man-made laws or conditions, but by the spiritual laws and conditions of our Creator, God, Almighty.

Long ago this Living Trust was broken, and so was our family circle. Today, we give thanks as our circle is once again being restored as we reach out to connect with one another, unify, heal and come together as an extended family.  Yah kwen’~heh!

Blessings & Grace

Teresa Morris

Nooherooka 300

The Discussion Board is a moderated forum for commentary on the battle at Fort Nooherooka in 1713, the Tuscarora War of 1711-1713, and the Nooheooka 300 Commemoration of these historic events. Students, scholars, prophets, pundits, and all other interested individuals are respectfully invited to submit their thoughts below. Names, geographic location and email addresses are required with each submission. Public posting may be delayed for 1-2 days.