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Angela Jonathan: Tuscaroras keeping great traditions alive

A small slice of greenery is located just north of Niagara Falls on a plot 3 miles square surrounded by Lewiston. It is beautiful, open space shared with deer, rabbit and wild turkey. They are a welcome sight to us and to our men when hunting season starts.

The Tuscarora Nation, our homeland, is the sixth nation of the Haudenosaunee, or the Iroquois Confederacy, joining up with the Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga and Seneca nations in 1722.

Growing up on the Tuscarora Reservation, then moving to Niagara Falls, Ohio and Kentucky, I never forgot where I came from – the greatest place on Earth!

My family has lived here for 300 years, a long line of humble, working-class people who fished, hunted, planted, labored and sweated their way through life. They loved to laugh, and some enjoyed a few beverages.

I’m not too proud to say I used an outhouse, hauled water from a pump, wore hand-me-downs and drove my share of “rez” beaters. I was blessed to be born into a wonderful community to a happy, laid-back clan (my mother was one of 10) with 36 first cousins. Life was never boring. Material things were not abundant, but we had everything we needed and it made us more appreciative of the things we accomplished on our own.

I visited a native community this summer that had totally lost its culture – no beadwork or originality on its native dress, no knowledge of its clan system and sadly its language has died out. It gave me a new appreciation of my own Tuscarora people and the efforts of those who push to preserve our language and culture.

For over 80 years, from the 1800s forward, the official government policy was boarding schools, language repression and assimilation of native people. My grandmother was in Indian School, forbidden to speak her language. Native people were prohibited from raising their own children and practicing their ceremonies, which celebrated nature and all living things. Because of these practices, when they returned home and raised families, they could not pass the language down to their children.

Our community has made a conscious effort to keep our traditions alive. Tuscarora Immersion Class is taking place at Tuscarora School, teaching language, culture and beadwork. Traditional ceremonies are practiced and stories of days gone by are shared with our young ones. Long-held traditions continue, such as the men’s annual hunt for the New Year’s Feast – Nu Yah – where people of all ages go door to door on New Year’s Day yelling, “Nu Yah” to receive a homemade treat. And the Tuscarora Indian Picnic, held every July for the past 170 years, is still going strong.

Two years ago, we traveled to our old homeland of North Carolina with three bus loads of Tuscaroras for the 300th commemoration of the battle at Fort Neyuheruke – the final Tuscarora battle when we were driven from our homeland and began our journey north.

We made a historical walk from the Neyuheruke battle site to Snow Hill, the place of our first reservation. We left behind a handful of our young people who walked, ran, canoed, biked and camped the entire way home following the path of our ancestors. What took our ancestors years, took them three months. We celebrated the fact that we are still here!

It doesn’t matter what background you come from or what nationality you are – celebrate your history, speak your native tongue, tell your children their history, be proud of who you are and keep your culture alive.