O'Hara siblings awarded Seneca nation scholarships

Tue, Apr 26th 2016 09:00 am
Justin and Summer Hemphill, students at Cardinal O'Hara High School, have received a scholarship as members of the Hawk Clan of the Seneca Nation of Indians. (Courtesy of Cardinal O'Hara High School)
Justin and Summer Hemphill, students at Cardinal O'Hara High School, have received a scholarship as members of the Hawk Clan of the Seneca Nation of Indians. (Courtesy of Cardinal O'Hara High School)

Checking one's heritage is a popular pastime, which takes time and patience.

In the case of Summer and Justin Hemphill, however, exploring their heritage is as easy as asking their mother and grandmother.

Summer, a senior at Cardinal O'Hara High School in Tonawanda and her brother, Justin, a freshman, belong to the Hawk Clan of the Seneca Nation of Indians tribe on the Allegany Territory.

The siblings said they often visit their grandmother and cousins on the reservation.

"Justin and I were born in Buffalo," Summer said. "We don't know much of our language. It comes from the elders, many have died and the young people are not interested."

Each of the siblings has been awarded a $5,000 scholarship, presented to an enrolled Seneca child whose mother is a Seneca. A child of a Seneca man who marries a non-Seneca woman cannot be an enrolled member of the Seneca Nation. This is the case because the Seneca Nation adheres to a traditional matrilineal heritage system of enrollment for its members.

To be eligible for a scholarship, among other requirements, a student must be an enrolled member of the Seneca Nation of Indians, maintain good grades and send copies of his or her grades to the Seneca Nation Education Department.

Summer and Justin agreed that when they first entered O'Hara, they were nervous as they are not Catholic and in fact, practice no formal religion.

"We are brought up with standards of living and I do what I know is right," Summer said.

"But," she added smiling, "I soon became accustomed to morning prayer and school Masses. It's so welcoming here."

Justin echoed his sister's thoughts.

"It's nice to be here and if you need help, teachers are always available after school."

Justin, who is quiet by nature according to his sister, talked about the community center on the reservation.

"I swim there in a beautiful pool and use the gym," he said.

And it's at the gym at O'Hara where the two excel. Summer is a star on the girls varsity basketball team, often written up for her prowess on the court in local papers. The team is ranked No. 1 in large schools and hopes to win another state championship.

Summer also runs track and field and was a state qualifier in the long and triple jumps, setting a new school record in long jump last spring.

Summer has already been offered a full scholarship for basketball at the University at Buffalo where she would study criminal justice.
Although only a freshman, Justin is making a name for himself on the varsity basketball and football teams.

"I have to do as well as Summer," he said "and I want to play in the NBA."

"These two have shown a lot of growth since coming to O'Hara," said Doug Buczak, admission director. "The are more confident, mature and do well academically."

Aside from school, sports and activities, the siblings said that at home corn soup and ghost bread are their very favorite foods, which are among the most popular, traditional, Native American foods.

"We celebrate everything, have socials with traditional music and food and enjoy our heritage," Summer said.

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