Thursday, July 17, 2014

Tuscarora Annual Summer Picnic

This past weekend of July 11-13, we had the good fortune to visit the Tuscarora Indian Reservation and attend the annual Summer Picnic and Field Days.  The Tuscarora have many ties to Pennsylvania, migrating through here from North Carolina 300 years ago on their way to a new home with the Iroquois Confederacy.  They eventually settled in the Niagara Falls, NY area, but they periodically return to Pennsylvania at various times commemorating their ancestors’ migration

The festival is an annual gathering that brings families and clans together for a celebration.  The opening ceremonies were in “the grove”, across from their new community center.  The grove was designated for the festival about 80 years ago and now has a cement stage, food preparation and comfort facilities.  The Summer Festival celebrates its 170th anniversary in 2015.

The parade into the grove consisted of chiefs carrying flags and symbols of their nation, followed by the clan mothers.  Neil Patterson Jr. spoke in Tuscarora giving the opening welcome and prayer.  There are currently only six Tuscarora that speak the language but teaching their language has been a project that is in the forefront for the Nation.

The Big Drum Ceremony called all the people together and a special presentation was made to Lee Simonson.  His involvement in the December celebration of the Tuscarora Heroes Monument ( in Lewiston, NY was acknowledged with a fine plaque from the Nation.

The real festivities started when the dress and dancing contests began.  Children were clothed in traditional clan dress, handmade by people in their clan (such as grandmothers, mothers or even grandfathers).  Beadwork is always hand sewn and frequently depicts a clan symbol (such as the turtle, bear, snipe, deer or beaver) or a significant event relating to the clan.  Children are judged on their dress and show great deportment while standing in front of the audience of hundreds of people. The youngest, a one month old baby was held by his proud father.

The dancing contests began with the youngest (from 4 years old on up) showcasing their renditions of traditional dance.  It was impressive to see how serious the children were when it came to honoring their traditions of dress and dance.  They were taught the dance steps and worked diligently to do them correctly on that hot afternoon, while fully clothed in traditional regalia.

After the children showcased their dance, the adults entered serious competitions, especially in the traditional ‘Smoke Dance’.  The dances represent periods of the past or the transformation of a Tuscarora child into adulthood.  Dancing brings the community together and each has a symbolic meaning.  The Rabbit Dance is fast and symbolizes the hunter chasing the quick and clever rabbit while the Smoke Dance symbolizes the growth of a child to a man or a woman.

Community, camaraderie, food, renewing traditions and outreach are the spirit of the Tuscarora Annual Picnic.  The cares of the outside world are far away and left to be dealt with another day.

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

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