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Tuscarora Nation keeps tradition alive

by jmaloni
Thu, Jul 15th 2010 09:00 am

Story and photos by Danielle Forsyth

On Friday, July 9, and Saturday, July 10, the Tuscarora Nation held its 165th Picnic and Field Days along with the 30th annual Tuscarora 10K and 2.5 Run/Walk at the Picnic Grove on the corner of Walmore Road and Mount Hope Road, in the heart of the Tuscarora Nation.

Registration began for the run/walk early in the morning Saturday with a record number of participants. By noon, the field was bustling with music, dancing, and various activities for all ages. Saturday's events focused on celebrating tradition, and the importance of keeping the tradition alive through the young people of the Tuscarora Nation.

And the youngest of the event were not forgotten. The Tuscarora baby contest took place at noon, with infants and toddlers displaying their traditional clothing. The raised-beading on the girls' dresses and the feathered headpieces of the boys made for a colorful and oh-so-cute spectacle. The majority of the outfits were handmade by a family member, which again stressed the importance of family and tradition at this year's event.

Walking around the picnic area, there were many small tents with artisans displaying their works. Many of these artists specialized in beadwork, including Anita Greene of the Tuscarora Deer Clan who had a tent set up with some of her creations. She has been crafting beadwork designs since the mid-1970s. According to Greene, "the way a person beads is like a signature -- no two are alike."

Her work was included in the traveling exhibition, "Across Borders: Beadwork in Iroquois Life," which was shown at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City and the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

Along with the more experienced artisans, the younger generation was encouraged to enter its creations into a beadwork competition.

There was no shortage of friendly competitions at this year's events, including the Tuscarora princess contest, tomahawk throwing and the smoke dance competition.

Participants from each age and gender group gathered in front of the stage to dance a traditional smoke dance, kept in time by a drum and traditional singer. The age groups ranged from 2 to 50 and older.

One of the youngest participants, a boy no older than 3, had better rhythm than this writer surely ever will. He, however, did have the help of an older family member who clapped and kept time with the drum. She later competed in the women's 50 and older category.

There were other "social" dances performed, including one just for the women of the clan, who are highly respected and praised as important members of the family and governmental structure of the nation.

Another way the Tuscarora Nation celebrates their women, and young women in general, is the annual princess contest. This year, 15-year-old Mackenzie Oddo of the Turtle Clan won the title after a final, tie-breaking question with runner-up Ellessea Jacobs.

Oddo, a Niagara-Wheatfield student, enjoys playing on three different high school sports teams, including lacrosse, basketball and tennis. She wants to play lacrosse in college on a Division I team.

Oddo knows the importance of keeping up the tradition, "I love seeing the little kids looking up at me," she said. "This festival really helps them learn about their culture."

The annual two-day event was open to the public. To keep updated with all Tuscarora events, visit http://tuscaroraenvironment.com/default.aspx.

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