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Leo R. Henry, 90, was Tuscarora Nation chief for 54 years

Leo R. Henry, 90, was Tuscarora Nation chief for 54 years

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Leo Henry

Leo Henry in 2011.

March 1, 1931 – Aug. 15, 2021

For all of his 90 years, Tuscarora Turtle Clan Chief Leo "Buck" Henry had his eye on the future.

"That is part of the Longhouse belief; you look seven generations into the future," said Sherry Printup, one of Chief Leo Henry's two daughters, referring to the philosophy of the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, people.

Chief Henry, known as "Buck," died in Mount St. Mary's Hospital in Lewiston after a brief hospitalization. He was 90.

Last year, when Chief Henry was one of the elders interviewed by Angela Jonathan of the Tuscarora History Group, he said, "I want all Tuscaroras to know the importance of knowing your language, knowing your culture and knowing about the Great Law of Peace.

"If we lose our identity the federal government could say we are just like them now and decide to not have a reservation anymore," he said. "This is what I hope people will remember 50, 100 years from now."

Chief Henry was born on Mount Hope Road on the reservation, the fourth of five children of Noah and Louise Pembleton Henry.

He attended Tuscarora School, then LaSalle and Gaskill middle schools, and was a 1950 graduate of Trott Vocational High School, where he completed the carpentry program. In high school, he competed on the track and football teams.

"I had a chance to go to Cornell after I graduated but when I found out it was an agricultural school I wasn’t interested," he told Angela Jonathan. After working for a few years on the farm of his uncle Ernest Henry, he said, "I said no thanks to Cornell; I didn’t want the long hours of a farmer."

Chief Henry joined the Marine Corps in 1952, and after basic training, volunteered to go to Korea. "The Korean War was still going on and I saw some fighting," he said. He was also stationed on an island near Puerto Rico, working as a wireman, installing and maintaining electrical power systems. He later worked as an aide to an officer.

He married Jeanne Smith on Aug. 27, 1954.

He became an electrician, working first at Stauffer Chemical Co. in Lewiston, then at Carborundum Co., which was later purchased by Saint-Gobain. He retired from Saint-Gobain in the 1990s.

"I never ever grew up thinking I was going to be a chief," he told Jonathan. As is customary, he was selected for the post by his aunt, Doris Hudson, Turtle Clan mother.

"I told her to give me a week to think it over," Chief Henry said. "She gave me a day. My wife Jeanne told me it was up to me to decide what I wanted to do and when I made my decision she supported me until her final days."

Chief Henry was installed, or condoled, in November 1967 in the Tonawanda Longhouse in Basom along with Chief Stuart Patterson of the Beaver Clan. That was the final condolence ceremony for the Tuscarora Nation until 2019, when Tom Jonathan of the Bear Clan was installed as chief.

After Tom Jonathan was condoled, Chief Henry gave him advice and information and provided him with contacts throughout the Haudenosaunee Confederacy who would also be willing to assist him.

"He was very kind and very knowledgeable," said Tom Jonathan. "He was very sharp, right up until his final days."

"My father's life was dedicated to his Nation, his Tuscarora people, his clan, and the Confederacy," said Sherry Printup.

Chief Henry was an active member of the Tuscarora History Group and was dedicated to the construction of a traditional Longhouse, a spiritual and ceremonial structure, on Tuscarora territory. Even though it was not fully completed at the time of his death, "The clan mothers decided that his funeral would be the first held there" on Aug. 18, said his daughter.

"It was his dream to see the Longhouse and it's sad in a way that his funeral was the first held there," said Tom Jonathan.

For many years, Chief Henry was honored at the Tuscarora Heroes Day ceremony in Lewiston on Dec. 19, the anniversary of the day in 1813 when Tuscarora people assisted Lewiston residents as they fled British forces who had invaded the U.S. from Canada. The event is also marked by a memorial sculpture at Portage Road and Center Street in the village. In 2013, the 200th anniversary of the rescue, Chief Henry portrayed the Tuscarora chief of 1813, Chief Solomon Longboard.

Chief Henry's wife died on March 16, 2015, after they had been married for 60 years.

Besides Sherry Printup, Chief Henry is survived by another daughter, Heidi Henry; a grandson; two great-grandchildren; and two great-great grandchildren.

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