Sunday, June 16, 2024

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At The Mission House, ‘Mohican Miles’ gives voice to Stockbridge’s first community

At The Trustees of Reservations' site, the Stockbridge–Munsee Community tells its story, past and present, on its own terms.

STOCKBRIDGE — From the banks of the Konkapot River to the cascading waters of Umpachene Falls, the history of the Stockbridge–Munsee Mohican Nation runs deep in Berkshire County. Conversations surrounding the origins of the federally recognized Tribal Nation in Wisconsin — which began in the Hudson and Housatonic River Valleys of the Northeast — have not always been as audible as the rushing bodies of water named for the leaders of two Housatonic Mohican villages in 1734.

Today, 165 years after The Nation was forcibly relocated to what are now the towns of Red Springs and Bartelme in Shawano County, Wisconsin (a result of the Treaty of 1856), a new exhibit at The Mission House Museum gives voice not only to Mohican history and culture, but to land as a source of traditions and identity, and tackles the repercussions of an entire group being forcibly uprooted from their ancestral home.

“We are excited that we have a place to call ours to tell our history, our way. The history that Mohican Nation has in Stockbridge is significant and we are grateful to be able to tell it,” said Heather Bruegl, cultural affairs director for the Stockbridge–Munsee Community, about “Mohican Miles,” the exhibit opening July 2 at The Mission House. Created through collaboration with The Trustees of Reservations, the exhibit covers a wide range of topics, including an overview of Mohican history, the Tribe’s historic relationship with The Trustees, information about the community today, the work of the Historic Preservation Office in the homelands, and displays of historic objects belonging to the Tribe. The exhibit’s location, on Main Street in Stockbridge, presents another layer of symbolism: It has been centuries since the Tribe has had such a physical presence on this very historic location in the homelands, where many Ancestors once walked, lived, led, and learned.

“I was extremely grateful for this opportunity … to learn so much about the complexities of Mohican history, as well as the Stockbridge–Munsee Community’s current relationship with their [ancestral] homelands,” Trudy Fadding, of Stockbridge, told The Edge. Fadding, through a fellowship at Williams College, where she is a student and where the Tribe maintains a Tribal Historic Preservation Extension Office, worked locally with the Tribe’s office to develop the exhibit’s content.

The “Mohican Miles” exhibit at The Mission House. Photo: Brian Cruey

Items were ultimately curated from the archives of the Arvid E. Miller Memorial Library Museum, which houses the largest collection of Mohican documents and artifacts in the world. As a result of an agreement with the Trustees, the Stockbridge–Munsee Community will maintain exhibit materials in the Carriage House, the separate exhibit room behind The Mission House, for the next four years. This space formerly held many objects belonging to the Mohican people, purchased by Mabel Choate, the founder of The Mission House. Recently, many of these same objects have been repatriated back to the Tribe after nearly a century of separation.

“As an organization, we are committed to the centering of Indigenous voices,” said Brian Cruey, the Trustees’ Southern Berkshires portfolio director. “We’re so grateful to the Stockbridge–Munsee Community for engaging with us and allowing us the room to learn and grow on this journey,” he said.

In April, The Trustees renamed a pair of trails at Monument Mountain. The former Indian Monument Trail was renamed “Mohican Monument Trail” and Squaw Peak is now called “Peeskawso Peak,” which means “virtuous woman” in the Mohican language. The name changes were carefully deliberated and approved by the Stockbridge–Munsee Community Band of Mohicans (a group hovering at around 1,500 members, half of whom currently live on or near the reservation, which has several thriving businesses including the Mohican North Star Casino and Pine Hills Golf Course). The reservation, in northern Wisconsin, is roughly the same size as the original 23,000 acres of land in Stockbridge, which was originally called “Indian Town.”

The “Mohican Miles” exhibit at The Mission House. Photo: Brian Cruey

Other regional efforts, such as the Upper Housatonic Valley Native American Heritage Trail, seek to first acknowledge and then educate on the colonialism that led to Indigenous culture being nearly wiped from history. As part of its mission, The Trail introduces visitors to the deep and vibrant histories of the region’s Indigenous communities, and erases long-held stereotypes so visitors may understand those communities as living people with thriving cultures, as well as a rich past. (For those who are unfamiliar, the Mohican History Walking Tour of Main Street in Stockbridge is a great place to start.)

The following land acknowledgement, printed on the Native American Heritage Trail’s website, is finding its way into the local lexicon. I, for one, was overjoyed when it was read at the opening of Sandisfield’s Annual Town Meeting in 2020:

It is with gratitude and humility that we acknowledge that we are learning, speaking, and gathering on the ancestral homelands of the Mohican people, who are the indigenous peoples of this land. Despite tremendous hardship in being forced from here, today their community resides in Wisconsin and is known as the Stockbridge–Munsee Community. We pay honor and respect to their ancestors past and present as we commit to building a more inclusive and equitable space for all.

“Mohican Miles” opens to the public Friday, July 2 and will be accessible to visitors during Mission House Museum hours, Thursday–Monday from 10 a.m.–4 p.m.

“I hope that, after this project, the Stockbridge–Munsee Community’s presence in Stockbridge will continue to grow,” Fadding said, paving the way for her ultimate goal: “That the town will continue to create space for Mohican history.”


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