Three centuries after their beleaguered ancestors fled their homeland in North Carolina, a group of young adults are re-enacting their people’s tortuous trek and return home today to a welcome at the Tuscarora Nation.
Members of the group – they numbered between six and 10 over the course of the their 1,200-mile journey – started March 23 at Snow Hill, N.C. They hiked, ran, biked, walked and kayaked the entire way. Today they will be met in Sanborn and accompanied the last 6 miles home by a crowd of well-wishers, then welcomed at the edge of Tuscarora Nation territory by clan mothers, chiefs, elders, relatives and friends.
“I think when we get closer to home, it’s going to be just waterworks,” said Jodi Patterson, one of five people who traveled every mile. “It’s going to be really touching to see how much we have affected and inspired the people.”
“We can’t wait to be home,” said Bryan Printup, who coordinated the journey under the auspices of the Tuscarora Environment Program and ensured that the group made its daily mileage totals, along with organizing meals, rest stops and places to sleep.
The Tuscaroras were admitted to the Iroquois League in 1722 as the younger brothers of the Cayugas, joining the Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida and Seneca peoples. They had left North Carolina after being defeated in battle and driven out by colonists and Native American allies in 1713.
During the recent journey, which was physically, mentally and emotionally challenging for every participant, Printup said they often thought of the desperate flight of their ancestors, called the Tuscarora Migration.
“Every day, when we have to get up and think about walking or running 20 miles, we know that our ancestors had to do it with a sick grandma and a baby strapped to their back, and hauling all their belongings,” he said.
“They had people chasing them out of their homes,” said Taylor Hummel, who took a semester off from Dartmouth College, where she is majoring in Native American Studies and anthropology. “We’re so lucky. We have a nice support van, and we get a good night’s sleep without having to worry that we will get hunted down.”
Besides Patterson, Printup and Hummel, Waylon Wilson and Jacob Henry also made the entire trek. Completing the final leg with the group are Milo Jacobs and Brian Henry, who is the father of Jacob Henry. Others who participated in the trek along the way are Paul Williams, Savannah Fauzey, Denise Litz, Schuyler Chew, Jim Hummel, who is Taylor’s father, and Paris Harper, a Pennsylvania resident who wrote a dissertation on the Tuscarora Migration.
The trip on modern highways would have been much shorter, but the group tried to stick to routes their ancestors probably took, including the Tuscarora Trail, which splits off from the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.
The group set out from Greene County, N.C., after the March 23 dedication of a new monument to the Tuscarora people killed in the siege of Fort Nooherooka.
The monument was dedicated on the anniversary of the day in 1713 when, after a three-week siege by colonial forces and their Native allies, the Tuscaroras’ fortified structure was burned. Hundreds died in the fire, more were slain as they tried to flee, and hundreds more were captured and forced into slavery. More than 2,000 Tuscaroras were killed or captured.
This defeat scattered the Tuscaroras. With their land seized, the people suffered. Seeking refuge, they looked north to the Iroquois, or Haudenosaunee, with whom the Tuscarora share ancient cultural and language roots.
“Our history tells us that we were all together at one point,” said Printup.
Many Tuscaroras have never visited the site where their ancestors once lived, but in March, three buses carried people from the Tuscarora Nation in Niagara County to North Carolina for the dedication of the monument. A weekend of historical and cultural events, including lectures, workshops, demonstrations and a film, were coordinated by East Carolina University and the Tuscarora Nation.
After the dedication, the Tuscarora migration group began their trek north.
“We watched them start on their journey; it was very inspiring,” said Rene Rickard-Printup, office administrator for the Tuscarora Environment Program.
During the running portions of the trek, one person ran while others rode in the support van, which enabled the group to cover up to 40 miles a day.
When they kayaked or hiked mountainous trails as a group, they could travel only up to 12 miles per day.
In addition to commemorating and sharing the story of their survival as a people, the group hopes their trek will call attention to climate change and emphasize the need for more “human-powered” movements.
Some of the toughest days, Printup said, were when the group hiked mountainous trails in the Virginia heat.
“But we had a lot of difficult parts,” he said. “When we kayaked up the Susquehanna River, that was seven days of paddling upstream, so that was quite a feat.”
Although they stayed in motels for a few nights, the group mostly camped out, often in primitive conditions. Food was basic, too, except when families met the group along the route and treated them to dinner.
“When we were backpacking, we ate a lot of dried foods, like jerky and freeze-dried meal pouches,” Patterson said. “We have a camp stove, and we do what we can with that.”
The group has used modern technology to stay in touch, including regular Skype sessions with middle school students.
“We were surprised how excited they were to talk to us, and they liked to ask questions, funny questions,” Printup said.
The group has maintained an active Facebook page named 2013 Tuscarora Migration Project, which has received 400 “likes” and many positive comments. “Some days we’d say, ‘Man, we got 95 likes today!’ and that was really awesome,” said Patterson.
Planning for this commemoration of the 300th anniversary of the Tuscarora defeat at Fort Nooherooka began many years ago. Rickard-Printup recalled hearing Neil Patterson Jr., director of the Tuscarora Environment Program, talking about the idea 15 years ago.
After the group returns home, they plan to share their experiences in talks in local schools and at public events. They say they are filled with pride in their ancestors, who endured and conquered so many hardships.
“As people, there were so many chances for us to be decimated, suffer genocide, lose our way or be assimilated,” Printup said. “But we found ways to survive and preserve our ways, and we’re still here, 300 years later, as a culture.”
The public is invited to join members of the Tuscarora Nation in welcoming home the trekkers around 3 p.m. today at the boundary of the Tuscarora Nation at Walmore Road and Route 31 in Sanborn. A potluck dinner and celebration will follow the welcome in the Tuscarora Nation House, 5226 Walmore Road, Tuscarora Nation Territory.