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While beset with challenges and strife, Tuscarora Nation has taken steps to preserve the past and face the future

Niagara Falls Repoerter

March 13, 2012

From the publisher Frank Parlato Jr.

We have devoted many pages of criticism to longtime Tuscarora Chief Leo Henry.

We have suggested he has saved money for the Nation in various accounts in the name of the Tuscarora people (controlled by Henry) that should already have been spent on the reservation to serve its people's needs.

Projects, perhaps, could have been undertaken that instead have stalled for years while the money from the New York Power Authority has been set aside in various mutual funds accounts earning interest.

As outsiders, the Niagara Falls Reporter has partly depended on the various accounts of Tuscarora natives who have shared their story of "being on an 'island' surrounded by a 'sea' of U.S. life."

Some have had drastic complaints about the leadership.

Some are content.

While Henry may or may not be right to hold off on big projects like getting public water to every home throughout the 4,200 acres of reservation land that houses about 1,100 people, he is not without some accomplishment.

He has made some steps, slight though they may be, according to some, to preserve the culture, customs and traditions of the ancient Tuscarora.

One such example is his spearheading the building of a Nation House.

While we have criticized the reported expenditures concerning the building,Êit is clearly a step toward bringing unity to the tiny Nation of only a thousand people who are trying to cling to their noble past, while trying to survive and prosper in a modern world.

It is a large and modern building Henry built that has, nevertheless, some of the great features and remarkable symbolism of the ancient Nation Houses.

The land too is still heavily wooded with spotted fields of agriculture, and creeks and marshlands. The Nation is still run by a government of chiefs and clan mothers, although the balance of power between chief and clan mothers has tilted somewhat toward the chief, for he controls the money coming from outside agencies.

Yet the people, it is clear, still have "an inherent commitment to the land, a respect for civility and law, a tradition of sharing and giving back, and sense of caring for Mother Earth," as Henry had cause to be written and published in his New York Power Authority Tuscarora exhibit, where the principles of the Nation are extolled and set forth in simple terms for the visiting public to attempt to understand.

It is worth a visit to see.

The Tuscarora live a hybrid lifestyle -- partly American and partly ancient Tuscarora.

Henry has presided over this hybridizing for 50 years. He was around in the day (although not as a chief) when the Tuscarora had 9 percent of their total land seized in the eminent domain case to make way for the power plant in 1960. The Power Authority plans had a lasting effect on the Tuscarora's Niagara River access and changed their way of life.

Strange as it may sound in these days, just a few decades ago, for many Tuscarora, fishing was a way of life. Many families depended on the food they caught.

There were many clashes between the Tuscarora and the police and the Power Authority.

Arrests, negative portrayals of the Tuscarora in the media, confrontations with work crews, and divisions among families and neighboring communities were part of the struggle. They lost.

In 1960, after a long court battle, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the land could be seized, and the New York Power Authority took 9 percent of total Tuscarora lands through eminent domain.

As Henry pointed out in his exhibit, "For comparison purposes, consider that 9 percent of the U.S. (would include) the states of Washington, Oregon and California."

At that time, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black said, in a dissenting opinion:

"It may be hard for us to understand why these Indians cling so tenaciously to their lands and traditional tribal way of life. ... They, too, have their memories and their loves. Some things are worth more than money and the costs of a new enterprise. ... I regret that this Court is to be the governmental agency that breaks faith with this dependent people. Great nations, like great men, should keep their word."

Now fast forward from 1960 to 2012.

The Tuscarora are on the verge of an utter admixture of American and Native American cultures. They get certain advantages like state tax-free status. For losing 9 percent of their land back in 1960, they get millions in cash and benefits every year from the Power Authority. It is paid to Henry, and Henry alone controls it on behalf of the people.

Henry was there then, and is there now.

There is perhaps a disadvantage to that, since he is not an elected chief. The Tuscarora as it is today is not a democracy.

While he cannot control through police power, Henry has the authority to maintain a certain order that he sees fit, through an almost unlimited power to decide what to do with the millions that come from the federal and state governments.

Editor in Chief Mike Hudson has done truly remarkable and commendable work that has gotten him national attention for his investigative series bringing forth to the public for the first time a body of hidden information about life and government on the Tuscarora Reservation.

In the following weeks, we are planning to bring out a series of new discoveries -- following the money trail and evaluating more closely the issues confronting the Tuscarora, and having a closer look at the various factions competing for power on the reservation. If Henry were to be replaced as chief, would the new faction be better or worse?

New sources have emerged recently, including both those who support and those who bitterly oppose Leo Henry.

It may surprise you.



  Copyright © 2008 Frank Parlato Jr.