The Tuscarora Indian Nation has a reservation of approximately 24km2 on the outskirts of Niagara Falls, New York. Originally from the area that is now North Carolina, the Tuscarora Indians decided to emigrate north at the beginning of the 18th century due to colonial conflict. Because of ancestral connections, they were accepted as the Sixth Nation of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy and after several episodes of migration, were finally given land to live on by the Seneca in what is now Niagara County (which was expanded thanks to a donation from Ogden Land Company.)
During the construction of the New York Power Authority Niagara hydro-electric plant in the late 1950s, Robert Moses tried to seize 5.5km2 of Tuscarora land for a reservoir. After a protracted legal battle, Moses was awarded 2.2 km2 of Tuscarora land and the Nation was financially compensated based on the Courts definition of just compensation. The episode caused a rift between the Tuscarora and the surrounding community and within the Nation itself and scars remain.
This extract from our interview with Bryan Printup concentrates on issues relating to the environment, land, water, Tuscarora culture and the future of the Nation.
“My name is Bryan Printup, Beaver clan, Tuscarora Nation. I work for the Tuscarora Nation’s Environment Programme and I’m a GIS Manager.
I make maps, specifically for the Nation, and I make maps for a few other Indian Nations that are part of the Confederacy. Specifically, for the environment, we do ground water maps; we do contamination plumes; we do wetland inventory projects; there’s lots of different kinds of environmental maps, on top of mapping the Nation’s property in general. We don’t have a deeds office, the Nation’s property is all contained under the Nation’s name, so it’s considered communal property.
Our Nation does work with other government agencies. We mainly work with US EPA. Our office gets a majority of its funding through a grant from the US EPA. We work with them on a lot of environmental issues and they help out with technical issues. We meet with them a couple of times a year, we’ve been receiving funding from them for about 20 years now, I think. We do have a relationship with the New York State DEC, Department of Environmental Conservation, it’s not always the greatest relationship. They seem to not know their boundary and they don’t seem to know the laws and treaties that are in place, so that’s unfortunate. We work with a lot of other Indian Nations. They help us out technically just like the EPA does. They share a lot of their stories and experiences on developing programmes and new projects.
We have a certain land base, we can’t grow, almost like any other nation, there’s nowhere to go. We only have these couple of thousand acres and that’s it for our whole people. So, when people off the reservation want to use our land as access to their land because they live next door to us, or they want to come out to our Nation and use it as horse trails or they want to build off-road vehicle trails, it’s like – this is all we have, don’t come and ask us for a little bit of our land. I feel we’re always battling our neighbours, trying to maintain our borders. What little land we have, is for us.
We are one of very few communities in New York state that still depends upon well water. Everyone else has a municipal water system in place. At Tuscarora, when you have access to your own water, you are responsible for it, which is kind of how everything else here works at Tuscarora. We don’t have an over-arching government that has its hands in everything to do with your life, you’re responsible for how you live, you’re responsible if you want water, or how you’re going to get rid of your refuse. So, people have to pay for their own wells, they have to pay for their own septic systems, and all of that is expensive these days, unfortunately.
The ground water is unfortunately not the greatest. Even though we are at the highest spot in our area, we still have water that has sulphur, there are pockets that have naturally occurring lead. (I’m not sure what this is pertaining to. There wasn’t more to this sentence?). Then there’s a few instances where there’s actual contamination, based on gas stations, or there’s some sort of chemical that’s unfortunately in the ground from man, from us – there’s not a lot of that, but there is some. Even if it’s affecting 10-15 homes that’s still 5-10% of the population that’s being affected and it’s an issue.
Other issues include our loss of language. We’re trying to work to maintain it and then to revitalise it – we have so few first language speakers. The kids get language from PreK to 12th grade now, here at the Nation we also offer evening classes for adults, but we still really need to work hard to maintain our language.
Young people wanting to stay on the reservation – I think there’s a high percentage. I feel like we’re raising kids who value education and value wanting to become a better part of society, which I think is awesome, and it’s great that we have so many kids that go to college and so many kids that graduate high school. But you can flourish better if you live off the reservation, so young people have to make a decision about living here at home in the Nation, surrounded by your entire family, surrounded by a culture that you’re familiar with, surrounded by everything you know, or moving somewhere else where you could create a better life.
I feel like a lot of people do stay here on the Nation as they’re going through college, as they’re graduating, building families. There’s, I guess, one major setback or issue with that: it’s really hard to get land, there’s only so much road frontage available and if your family already doesn’t own land, it’s really tough to get it. And then on top of it, because we live on the Nation here, we don’t get mortgages, the bank isn’t able to come and take the land when you default. So, if you want to build, you have to fund that yourself – that doesn’t make it easy for you to continue to live out here, or to build a home and start a family, it is tough. But if I had to say, I would say that they would want to – they want to stay here instead of moving away.
I see Tuscarora’s future as definitely brighter. I really feel like these kids that we are raising, that are so bright and so thirsty for knowledge, they really respect our culture. I really feel like there was a time when it didn’t mean anything to be Tuscarora. It didn’t mean anything to be Indian. But now I think the youth of today value it and they are proud of the fact that they are native and that they are Tuscarora. I really view that as an asset. So, in 10,15, 20 years, when they start having children and they’re raising their kids to be proud of who they are, I really feel like we’ll be building a Nation that’s a lot stronger than it was 10 or 15 years ago.”
This is an extract. A video edit of the interview will soon be available on You Tube.