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Alum Walks in Ancestors’ Footsteps

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By Gabriela Leskur ’16
Alumni Association Writing Intern

It was a trip daunting in size and scope, a total of 70 days and 1,300 miles where Bryan Printup ’99 walked, ran, hiked, biked, and canoed from North Carolina to New York.

The physical toll he felt was more than repaid in his spiritual growth—after all, if Printup’s Tuscarora ancestors were willing to walk those miles for his future, then he was willing to travel those same miles to commemorate their past.

As the primary director of the 2013 Tuscarora Migration Project, Printup organized a journey allowing modern-day Tuscarora to follow the path their ancestors took three centuries ago.

The Tuscarora now reside in Tuscarora Nation—a sovereign territory in New York State with its own laws and system of government—but that area was not always their home. In 1713, after years of violence and oppression, the Tuscarora were defeated in battle and left their homes in North Carolina.

The first Native American people to leave their homeland due to hostility from European settlers, according to the Five Nations of the Haudenosaunee, the Tuscarora had to persevere on a journey through treacherous forests, mountains, and rivers to New York.

Although the nation maintains a strong cultural legacy, Printup said many of its inhabitants are unaware of the extent of their ancestors’ struggles or the history of their migration north.

“It’s true a lot of our people here don’t understand that we had so many opportunities as Tuscarora to disappear, to fall to the wayside, to fall to genocide,” Printup said. “It’s important for us to understand that we’ve worked 300 years to maintain who we are and that’s not easy.”

Printup’s own struggle to maintain his Tuscarora identity gave him an appreciation for how difficult it is to continue the Tuscarora tradition in the present day.

“Being from the reservation, you only know how to be native. But when I got to school, I had to learn how to be native with non-native people,” Printup said, reflecting on his experience as a student at Notre Dame.

While transitioning from a native upbringing into the Notre Dame community posed many challenges for Printup, it also brought many worthwhile lessons. After graduating with a degree in architecture, Printup felt his native identity needed to be reinvigorated. An internship he took with the Tuscarora Environment Program turned into a permanent position and led him to spearhead the Tuscarora Migration Project.

“It’s one of the reasons I went to Notre Dame—to learn about myself more. And I did,” he said. “And it led me to this job that I really love.”

To emphasize the resiliency of the Tuscarora legacy, Printup wanted to help plan a memorial journey that would bring out the same traits in the modern day Tuscarora people and instill leadership skills and survival techniques in the Tuscarora youth.

“One of our main objectives was to promote this idea of ‘moving about.’ It is this idea that we can still use our bodies to get around as an effective means of transportation,” Printup explained.

We wanted to focus on a variety of different ways of using our bodies, like running, biking, hiking, and canoeing. So I had to plan a route that would include all of these aspects.”

Printup split up the miles into many smaller ventures to make the journey less daunting. The twelve different experiences, including four weeks of hiking, a five-day bike trip, and a week of running, allowed for many different people to join the trekkers along the way for varying durations.

“We came across people who had never met a native,” Printup recounted. “Just hearing their questions and how they interacted with me, helped me understand myself more and what it means to be Tuscarora.”

While the physical demands took the group to its limits, the spiritual and historical significance resonated with the great sense of purpose: to connect to native identity.

At the core of the Tuscarora Migration Project were eight people who spent the majority of the 70-day trip with Printup, putting their lives on hold—sacrificing time with their families, taking a semester off from school, or a month off from work—due to the importance of this journey to them and their community.

“Those last few days, when we start running from Syracuse to home, we’re talking about 40-mile days and it was hot,” Printup said. “What was really great was that we were coming through Haudenosaunee country, so we were able to get a lot of support from our brothers and sisters—like the Senecas and the Onedagas and the Cayugas—and it felt like home.”

After the participants of the memorial journey finally returned to Tuscarora Nation, the community gathered in celebration. Tracing the route their ancestors crossed to stay together reminded the modern Tuscarora, as they joined together once again, how thankful they are for their ancestors’ sacrifice.

“It’s a testament to us, the Tuscarora, and these participants, who not only decided to go 1,300 miles, but decided to upheave their life for this project,” Printup said. “Everybody on board with our project and everyone being proud of it has brought people together who you normally wouldn’t think would be together.”

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