His long journey was sobering eye-opener

Fishtown res­id­ent Peter Prusinowski shows off the ori­gin­al pair of shoes that he wore on his Trail of Hope walk across the coun­try at the Penn Treaty Mu­seum on Wed­nes­day, Aug 17. Prusinowski re­cenlty com­pleted a walk that traced the Lenape In­di­an mi­gra­tion from the Delaware Val­ley to Bartles­ville, Ok­lahoma.

His name is Peter Prusinowski.

But you can call him “Ohelemux­wet.” 

At least, that’s the name he’s been giv­en by the Delaware In­di­ans of Ok­lahoma after he re­cently com­pleted a 2,000-mile, four-and-a-half-month jour­ney from Fishtown to Bartles­ville, Okla. 

It means — what else? — “one who walks a long way.” 

Prusinowski’s jour­ney began on March 23, and it was a dif­fi­cult long-dis­tance trudge through thun­der­storms, 116-de­gree heat and even a snow storm. 

“Some­times, the tem­per­at­ure was over 116 de­grees, and that was in the shade,” Prusinowski, a pho­to­graph­er, said a week and a half ago, just his second day back in Philly after his trip. 

For more than a dec­ade, Prusinowski has stud­ied the cul­ture of Nat­ive Amer­ic­ans. With the walk­ing trip he called the “Trail of Hope,” Prusinowski fol­lowed the mi­gra­tion of the Lenni Lenape In­di­ans from Penn Treaty Park, where they had made peace with Wil­li­am Penn, to their cur­rent tri­bal grounds in Ok­lahoma. 

He was ex­cited to pho­to­graph the coun­try as he walked, and he even planned to video­tape his en­tire trip, but soon after he began, the weight of all the equip­ment bogged him down and he saw little of in­terest to pho­to­graph. 

“Pho­to­graphy-wise, it’s really bor­ing,” he said. 

Walk­ing about 25 miles each day along loc­al roads, Prusinowski car­ried a 30-pound back­pack — about 60 per­cent of the weight was wa­ter he needed be­cause of the re­lent­less heat. 

Dur­ing the trip, he shipped his cam­cord­er and a tri­pod back home to re­duce some of the weight. 

To get through the scorch­ing heat he en­countered in areas of Mis­souri and Kan­sas, Prusinowski would walk at night and sleep in the day, try­ing to find what shade he could, some­times rent­ing a cheap hotel room to get some rest. 

“I stayed in some places where a lot of people would have said, ‘I’m not stay­ing here,’” he said with a laugh, talk­ing about the dirty and cheap mo­tels he found. 

In May, after a dev­ast­at­ing tor­nado hit Joplin, Miss., Prusinowski walked to the town — three days out of his way — to vo­lun­teer with the cleanup ef­fort. He stayed for eight days and met many res­id­ents who had lost everything in the nat­ur­al dis­aster. 

“Of all the houses that were dam­aged, none could be saved,” he said. “It was ex­tremely hard to talk to some of them. Say­ing you were sorry, what does that mean? It means noth­ing. They were so hurt. But there were so many vo­lun­teers, and they were grate­ful for that.”  

Along the way, Prusinowski said, he ex­pec­ted to run in­to his­tor­ic mark­ers or me­mori­al sites where the Lenni Lenape had stayed dur­ing the 180 years the tribe moved across the coun­try.  ldquo;But I found noth­ing,” he said, not­ing that he had stud­ied where the tribe had traveled, but, when he got there, he found noth­ing mark­ing the sites to re­call the his­tory. 

“I would stop and ask people what they knew about the In­di­ans in these towns, but there was noth­ing,” he said. “If I said something about Wil­li­am Penn, they would know, but just very little.” 

It was a sur­prise he said, that the loc­als seemed to know so little about the past of the area. But what sur­prised him more was the poverty he found in towns that once had thriv­ing Main Streets.

By walk­ing loc­al roads, he found towns that people miss when they drive on in­ter­state high­ways. These small places, he said, seemed to have little more than corn­fields and ruined va­cant build­ings. 

“I came across at least ten small towns that I couldn’t ima­gine that people lived there,” he said. “It was kind of a scary thing to see these towns that prospered at one point that were now dis­ap­pear­ing. Along the way, I don’t think I saw five towns that you would call towns with stores and homes. People just don’t know about this coun­try. We say we are so great in the United States, but at these towns, I didn’t see any of that. That’s what we don’t hear about on TV news.” 

Even with the dif­fi­culties of the trip, Prusinowski found it an in­cred­ible ex­per­i­ence. Much of the hard­ship, he said, was washed away when he was wel­comed by tri­bal lead­ers in Ok­lahoma. 

“It was a good ex­per­i­ence,” he said. “It’s hard to say right now … my mind keeps go­ing back to those memor­ies. This wasn’t a two-week va­ca­tion where you go and come back right away. My mind is still not clear on a few things. I’m still kind of in shock.” ••

Re­port­er Hay­den Mit­man can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmit­man@bsmphilly.com  

You can reach at hmitman@bsmphilly.com.

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