ELM CITY, N.C. — A group of Native Americans is camped out in Wilson County on land they say is theirs.
They have declared their tribe a nation and are launching a fight to govern themselves.
Camp sites located on 10 acres of land near Elm City are home to three men who claim to be Tuscarora Indians. They claim Wilson County is part of their native land and was wrongfully taken away by the state.
The men set up a religious ceremonial circle on their land and declared the area a separate tribal nation. Spokesman Timothy Jacobs said the Tuscarora people are neither United States nor North Carolina citizens and are not subject to their laws.
"North Carolina cannot come upon this land," Jacobs said. "The federal government cannot come upon this land to violate our constitutional rights and civil rights as indigenous people."
So far, there have not been any legal issues, but the Wilson County Sheriff's Office wants to make it clear that the group is not above the law.
"There's not been any legislative action from the federal, state or local government declaring (Jacobs' land) to be an Indian reservation," said Maj. John Farmer, of the sheriff's office. "Therefore, at this time, they're going to be treated just like any other citizen of Wilson County."
Jacobs has been in trouble before. He served prison time for his role in holding a Robeson County newspaper staff hostage with sawed-off shotguns in 1989.
He said he is a different person, now, but does not regret what he did then.
"I had to take over the
in the 1980s in order to bring attention to the problems of the Native Americans," Jacobs said. "I hope that, in this case, we will not have to go to that extreme."
Right now, there are just three men living on the land full-time, but their plan is to turn the land into a large Tuscarora community.
The men plan to build a community center and eventually some permanent homes. It's a strange sight for many longtime Elm City residents.
Kenneth Byron's home borders the Tuscarora Nation's land.
"I'm just kind of wary of what their real intentions are right now," Byron said.
Jacobs said they just want to live on their land and govern themselves. He said they are willing to file federal lawsuits if that is what it takes.
The Tuscarora Nation recently applied for permits to put an office trailer and a temporary power pole on its land. The Elm City Board denied that request, saying it first needs to learn more about the group's intentions.