Event set for July 12-13 at corner of Mount Hope and Walmore roads
By Joshua Maloni
Every day, Lewiston residents are reminded of the Tuscarora Nation’s unexpected and brave actions taken more than 200 years ago.
They see the Tuscarora Heroes Monument on Center Street – notably, two Native Americans ushering a woman and child to safety.
If they stop to see the plaque, they read, “On the morning of December 19, 1813, Lewiston was attacked by British forces and their native allies from Canada. The British had captured Fort Niagara hours earlier and were intent on destroying Lewiston. … Poorly defended, Lewiston residents could only run for their lives in hopes of escaping the atrocities. … At the moment when Lewiston citizens had lost hope, a small group of Tuscarora men ran down from their village atop the escarpment and offered the first resistance the enemy had seen. … Despite being outnumbered 30-to-1, the Tuscarora heroes risked their lives, took their courageous stand, and came to the aid of their Lewiston neighbors.”
People see this, but how much do they really know about the Tuscarora people – especially in 2019? Or of Tuscarora heritage and culture?
A good opportunity to learn more about this neighboring nation will take place next weekend. The 174th Tuscarora Picnic & Field Days opens Friday night and continues all day Saturday behind the Tuscarora Indian School on Mount Hope Road.
“They used to do this in the fall, and it was called the Fall Festival. Giving thanks to the Creator for a bountiful harvest throughout the year,” said Tuscarora Council member and elder Neil Patterson Sr. “So, 170-some years ago, the non-Indians said, ‘You know, you guys dress up pretty nicely in your outfits. You guys look pretty nifty. What we’d like to do is come see you. We know it’s a time when we can’t see you, but we’d like to have a time.’ So, the Tuscaroras said, ‘Let’s have it in the summertime.’ ”
Patterson said the event has grown over the years. The picnic now includes Native American vendors, live music and competitions.
The Tuscarora Picnic & Field Days weekend begins Friday with an opening at 5 p.m., and the Tuscarora Baptist Choir with Sandy Maracle performing at 6 p.m.
“He’s a Tuscarora; lives up in the Falls. He comes out and he’s a heck of a nice guy,” Patterson said of Maracle. “He does this because he says, ‘My Lord has given me this ability to do this. And that’s what I’m going to do. If you want me, I’ll do it.’ I said, ‘You got it.’ ”
The Tuscarora Princess contest takes place at 7 p.m., and offers young women a chance to win scholarship money.
At 8 p.m., Mark Porter Band takes the stage.
“They play blues. One year they did a salute to The Beatles. The next year they did The Eagles,” Patterson said. “They sing songs like that from back in the ’60s and ’70s.”
Saturday programming gets underway with a “Breakfast in the Grove” at 7:30 a.m.
“It’s just a donation breakfast; whatever money you got, you can give them – if that’s what you want to do – or not,” Patterson said. The menu includes eggs, bacon, sausage, home fries and toast.
Those looking to work off the carbs and calories can participate in the 10K or 2.5-mile races at 9 a.m.
“We’ve had world-class runners come here and do this, because 10Ks are kind of fizzling out,” Patterson said.
A second opening and a parade are next, at 11 a.m., and precede a performance by the Tuscarora Mission Choir.
The procession “goes from here (the Nation House) to the picnic grove, which is a couple hundred feet. It usually has chiefs, clan mothers lead it off, and then we try to get the fire companies around this area to come and be in the parade,” Patterson said.
Afternoon events include a children’s contest at noon; smoke dance warmups at 1 p.m.; and live music at 2 (Darryl Tonemah Band), 3 (Iroquois Indian Band) and 4 p.m. (Craig Wilkins).
Northwest Bank presents the smoke dance finale at 5 p.m.
“The smoke dance used to be a war dance, but they don’t do war dancing anymore, because they buried the hatchet and all weapons of war under the treaty of peace,” Patterson said.
A special performance by award-winning musician (and Johnny Cash friend) Joanne Shenandoah will begin at 6 p.m.
“She’s been all over the world,” Patterson said.
He explained she’s been on his performance wish list for a decade.
“This year she’s made herself available and, believe it or not, we had a spot there where we had no entertainment,” Patterson said.
He noted, “These singers, performers, they seem to know each other a little bit. When I tell them she was coming, they’re like, ‘Wow? Really!’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ ‘Oh, wow!’ ”
The evening concludes with a hand drum contest at 7 p.m., and Sawhorse Jackson Band at 8 p.m.
Picnic proceeds go toward Tuscarora programs and services, as well as upkeep at the Tuscarora Nation House.
The community building is located across the street from the Tuscarora Indian School. It was built using New York Power Authority relicensing funds, and opened in the late fall of 2011. The 38,000-square-foot facility includes a large reception room, a full kitchen, a resource library, offices, and two medical clinics – one for general health care and the other for dental needs.
Calamar was responsible for construction. An article on the company website reads, “The building is magnificent with wood frame structure and thick timber beams throughout. An impressive entrance welcomes you and beckons you to explore the proud heritage of the Tuscarora Nation – a member of the Iroquois Nations.”
The main entryway features a tree coming out of a wall mural, as well as decorative rocks and a painted turtle (representing creation) fashioned by artist Blair Rusin. In the adjoining resource room, shirts and pictures reference the Tuscarora Nation’s 1713 journey from Fort Neyuheru’:ke (Neh-yooh-roo-keh) in North Carolina to the Niagara Falls area.
Admission and parking are free at the picnic and field days.
For more information, visit http://www.tuscarorapicnic.org.
The 174th Tuscarora Picnic & Field Days Schedule
Friday, July 12
Saturday, July 13
The event takes place in the Tuscarora Picnic Grove at the corner of Mount Hope and Walmore roads.
Admission and parking are free.
Drugs and alcohol are not permitted on the premises, including in the parking lots.
For more information, visit http://www.tuscarorapicnic.org.
Join them next year for the 175th Picnic & Field Days – July 10-11, 2020