ROBESON COUNTY, NC (WMBF) - A member of the Tuscarora tribe is speaking out after law enforcement raided three illegal casinos, arrested 24 members, and seized vehicles, firearms and over 200 illegal gaming machines Monday.
Officials with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation's Alcohol Law Enforcement said the arrests came after a year-long multi-agency investigation that found the group allegedly operating three illegal casinos.
Kendall Locklear was one of the members arrested and owns the casino on Modest Road in the Maxton community. Friday, there was a "temporarily closed'"sign because of the raid, something Locklear said was unnecessary and unfair.
"The only thing they've done is come in here and destroy my casino over here and these other businesses, and unemployed a lot of people," Locklear said. "That's the only thing they've done.
Locklear said he had just come back from eating breakfast with his wife on Monday when dozens of law enforcement officers stormed his property, confiscated dozens of gambling machines and personal property, and arrested him.
"Monday was uncalled for," Locklear said. "We had three helicopters and an airplane flying over top of the house here. There were 200-plus officers here, easy."
Locklear said he opened the casino, which is located a few feet from his home, two years ago. Both are on about 12 acres of land passed down from ancestors of the Tuscarora Nation. He claims the property is sovereign independent land, free from federal oversight and taxes, which he claimed gives him the right to operate the casino.
"Natives are free of all taxes and duties, and that the state do not have no jurisdiction over reservation or territory lands," Locklear said.
Elisha Locklear, a Tuscarora cultural chief, said the tribe showed up on legal document in Robeson County beginning in 1754. There were 22 original Tuscarora Indians given bounty for their service with the colonials during the American Revolution, he added. After 1835, all the people of color lost the right of franchise, creating animosity between colonials and Native Americans.
"They had their own culture and they didn't want you to slander them and regulate them to another culture," said Elisha Locklear.
Another local historian said centuries ago the Tuscarora Nation migrated to New York state. In time, the federally recognized tribe disowned those that stayed behind in North Carolina.
Despite that, Locklear said he'll have the certified documents proving their property is indeed sovereign land come Aug. 14, when he and others arrested have to appear in court.
"Doesn't matter whether I'm in New York, doesn't matter whether I'm in California. I'm a Tuscarora wherever I lay my feet on," Locklear said. "My birth rights follows me wherever I go."
While the casino is closed now, Locklear says he plans to have it reopened within the next 30 to 60 days.