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Tuscarora Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Tuscaroras for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our Tuscarora language and culture pages for in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Tuscarora pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages. Photographs are the property of the sources we have credited.

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Tuscarora Tribe

          Iroquois family               Tuscarora dancer

How do you pronounce "Tuscarora"? What does it mean?
Tuscarora is pronounced "tuh-skuh-roar-uh." It comes from their own tribal name, Skarureh, which means "hemp people." Indian hemp, which is also called milkweed, is a plant that produces strong fibers, like cotton does. The Tuscarora used hemp to make rope, cloth for shirts, and ceremonial objects.

Where do the Tuscaroras live?
The Tuscarora Indians originally lived in North Carolina. But in the early 1700's, many Tuscaroras were killed or enslaved by the British during the Tuscarora War. Most of the survivors moved to New York to live with their northern relatives, the powerful Iroquois Confederacy. Most Tuscarora Indians today live in New York state or across the border in Ontario, but there are some Tuscarora people still living in the Carolinas.

Are the Tuscarora Iroquois people?

       Iroquois flag
Yes, the Tuscarora tribe became a member of the Iroquois League, or Kanonsionni in their own language ("league of clans.") The other member nations were the Seneca, Oneida, Cayuga, Onondaga, and Mohawk tribe. The Tuscaroras were the last nation to join the confederacy. Today these long-term allies call themselves the Haudenosaunee ("people of the longhouse") or Six Nations.

How is the Tuscarora Indian nation organized?
The Tuscarora nation had a tribal council chosen by the Tuscarora clan mothers (matriarchs, or female leaders.) After they joined the Iroquois League, the Tuscarora people were also subject to the decisions made by the Iroquois Great Council. This is similar to American states which each have their own government, but are all subject to the US government. In fact, the Iroquois Confederacy was one of the examples of representative democracy used as a model by America's founding fathers.

Today the Tuscarora tribe lives on a reservation in New York. A reservation is special land that belongs to an Indian tribe and is under their control. The Tuscarora Indian tribe has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. In fact, they still have a traditional tribal council of chiefs who are elected by Tuscarora clan mothers. But the Tuscaroras are also US citizens and must obey American law. Other Tuscarora people live on the Six Nations Reserve in Canada, which they share with members of the other Iroquois nations, or in tribal communities in North and South Carolina.

What language do the Tuscaroras speak?
Most Tuscarora people speak English today, but some Tuscaroras also speak their native Tuscarora language. Tuscarora is a complex language with many sounds that are unlike the sounds in English. If you'd like to know a few easy Tuscarora words, "chwe'n" (pronounced similar to chweh-n) is a friendly greeting, and "nyeahweh" (pronounced similar to nyah-winh) means 'thank you.' You can hear Tuscarora being spoken here and see a Tuscarora picture glossary here.

Today Tuscarora is an endangered language because most children aren't learning it anymore. However, some Tuscarora people are working to keep their language alive.

What was Tuscarora culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here is the homepage of the Tuscarora tribal school, where you can find information about the Tuscarora people past and present.

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How do Tuscarora Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?

   Cornhusk dolls
They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Tuscarora children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like early colonial children. But they did have cornhusk dolls, toys, and games, such as one game where kids tried to throw a dart through a moving hoop. Lacrosse was a popular sport among Tuscarora boys as it was among adult men. Like many Native Americans, Tuscarora mothers traditionally carried their babies in cradleboard carriers on their backs--a custom which many American parents have adopted.

What were Tuscarora homes like in the past?

          Iroquois longhouse sketch
The Tuscarora people lived in villages of longhouses, which were large wood-frame buildings covered with sheets of elm bark. Tuscarora longhouses were up to a hundred feet long, and each one housed an entire clan (as many as 60 people.) Here are some pictures of an Iroquois longhouse like the ones Tuscarora Indians used, and a drawing of what longhouses looked like on the inside. Today, longhouses are only used for ceremonial purposes. The Tuscaroras live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Tuscarora clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?

Tuscarora clothing

  Tuscarora boots
Tuscarora men wore breechcloths with leggings. Tuscarora women wore wraparound skirts with shorter leggings. Unlike other Iroquois tribes, Tuscarora Indian men wore shirts, which were traditionally made from hemp. Tuscarora women often wore a long tunic called an overdress. Like most Native Americans, the Tuscaroras wore moccasins on their feet. Here are some pictures of Native Americans moccasins. In colonial times, the Tuscarora tribe adapted European costume like cloth shirts and blouses, decorating them with beadwork and ribbon applique. Here is a webpage about traditional Iroquois dress, and here are some photographs and links about Woodland Indian clothing in general.

The Tuscaroras didn't wear long headdresses like the Sioux. Men wore traditional Iroquois headdresses, which were feathered caps with a different insignia for each tribe. (The Tuscarora headdress is made of turkey feathers with no eagle feathers sticking up from it.) Women sometimes wore special beaded tiaras. In times of war, Tuscarora men often shaved their heads except for a scalplock or a crest down the center of their head. This style is popularly known as a Mohawk haircut, but warriors in all the Iroquois tribes, including the Tuscarora, actually wore their hair this way. Sometimes they would augment this hairstyle with splayed feathers or artificial roaches made of brightly dyed porcupine and deer hair. Here are some pictures of these different kinds of American Indian headdress. Tuscarora women only cut their hair when they were in mourning. Otherwise they wore it long and loose or plaited into a long braid. The Tuscaroras sometimes painted their faces and bodies with red, black and white designs. After moving to New York, Tuscarora men began to wear tattoos like other Iroquoians.

Today, some Tuscarora people still wear moccasins or a beaded shirt, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear feathers in their hair on special occasions like a dance.

What was Tuscarora transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?

   Iroquois canoe
Yes--the Tuscarora Indians carved heavy dugout canoes from cypress logs for river travel. Here is a website with pictures of Native American carved canoes. Overland, the Tuscaroras usually just walked. There were no horses in North America until Europeans brought them over, so the Tuscaroras used pack dogs to help them carry heavy loads.

What was Tuscarora food like in the days before supermarkets?

    Iroquois farmers
The Tuscarora Indians were farming people. Tuscarora women planted crops of corn, beans, and squash and harvested wild berries and herbs. Tuscarora men hunted deer and rabbits and fished in the rivers. Tuscarora Indian recipes included cornbread, soups, and stews, which they cooked on stone hearths. Here is a website with more information about Native American food.

What were Tuscarora weapons and tools like in the past?

     Iroquois war club
Tuscarora hunters used bows and arrows. Tuscarora fishermen used spears. Tuscarora warriors used their bows and arrows or fought with heavy war clubs. Here is a website of pictures and information about Native American weapons.

Other important tools used by the Tuscaroras included stone adzes (hand axes for woodworking), flint knives for skinning animals, and hoes carved from animal bones. The Tuscaroras and other Iroquois were skilled woodworkers, steaming wood so that it could be bent to make curved tools. Some Iroquois artisans still make lacrosse sticks this way today.

What are Tuscarora arts and crafts like?
Tuscarora beadwork 
Beadwork, basketry and wood-carving are the most common Tuscarora crafts. The Tuscaroras also crafted wampum out of white and purple shell beads. Wampum beads were traded as a kind of currency, but they were more culturally important as an art material. The designs and pictures on wampum belts often told a story or represented a person's family.

What other Native Americans did the Tuscarora tribe interact with?
The Tuscaroras were friends and trading partners with the Lumbee tribes, and frequently fought with the Catawba people to the west. In the 18th century, the Tuscarora tribe joined the Iroquois Confederacy. and many Tuscarora people still live with their Iroquoian allies today.

What kinds of stories do the Tuscaroras tell?
There are lots of traditional Tuscarora legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Tuscarora Indian culture. Here is a Tuscarora story about the origin of mosquitoes. Here's a website where you can read more about Tuscarora legends.

What about Tuscarora religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Tuscarora life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Tuscarora people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. You can visit this site to learn more about Iroquois mythology or this site about Native American religion in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
One book about the Tuscarora tribe for younger readers is The Tuscarora, which includes photographs of traditional and contemporary Tuscarora life. Lacrosse: The National Game of the Iroquois is a lively look at the origins of this traditional sport and Iroquois culture in general, tracing the lives three generations of Onondaga lacrosse players. Legends of the Iroquois is a good collection of traditional Six Nations stories, retold by a Mohawk author. Wampum Belts of the Iroquois is an interesting look at the symbolism and significance of the different wampum belt designs used by the Tuscarora and other Iroquois peoples. Or If You Lived With The Iroquois provides a good look at daily life in the Iroquois tribes in the old days. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended American Indian books in general. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book through one of these links. Most of them can also be found in a public library, though!

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2020.

Thanks for your interest in the Tuscarora Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Tuscaroras

Tuscarora Indian Tribe
An overview of the Tuscarora people, their language and history.

Tuscarora Dictionary
Short vocabulary of Tuscarora Indian words.

Tuscarora Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Tuscarora tribe past and present.

Iroquois League
Information and links about the Iroquois Confederacy.

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