Stockbridge Indians: Descendents of native residents to visit ancestral homeland

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STOCKBRIDGE — A return of the natives — three descendants of the town's first settlers — will highlight a special presentation by the Stockbridge Library Association on Tuesday.

The free program, open to the public at 6:30 p.m. in the renovated Main Street library, offers a glimpse of the town's early history by members of the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians.

In the 1730s, Stockbridge was known as Indian Town, founded by Mohicans resettled from their Hudson River Valley homelands and known then as the "Stockbridge Indians."

As European colonists arrived, the tribe was forced to move on, westward bound to the Oneida, N.Y., Indian lands, where they named their settlement Stockbridge. Next stop was the White River Valley of Indiana, where land they had been promised turned out to be occupied.

Arriving on the shores of Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin, the tribe members also named their newest settlement Stockbridge, but after losing the land, most of them moved to their current home within the Menominee Tribe's 354,000 square-mile reservation, while others settled in Kansas and parts of Canada.

The Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Nation was formed in 1856, based in northern Wisconsin.

The federally recognized tribe of blended Mohican and Munsee natives, who are both Algonquian peoples, now includes 1,450 members.

They are governed by a seven-member Tribal Council elected by the community based on a 25,000-acre reservation, about the same size as the original land allotment in Stockbridge.

The tribe operates the North Star Mohican Resort and Casino in Shawano County.

Revisiting the legacy through personal recollections handed down from their forebears will be three tribal council members: Vice President Douglas Huck and council members Joe Miller and JoAnn Schedler, joined by Historic Preservation Officer Bonney Hartley.

"It's home, you feel your ancestors and it's a wonderful feeling," said Schedler in a phone interview from her office at the Wisconsin reservation.

Schedler, who has visited Stockbridge several times, added that "I always want to go back to our homeland."

Her ancestors include Chief John Konkapot, an original settler of Stockbridge, whom she called "a man of great decision-making, respected by the town, a good man who gives me pride." He is buried at the town cemetery.

"Many of our ancestors are buried in Stockbridge," she said, "so we're very connected to what was our territory. It's a beautiful place, our ancestors will always be there."

A retired Army nurse, Schedler will discuss tribal veterans who served with distinction in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and later conflicts.

She will also report on the tribal government's economic, health and educational support programs for the 550 Stockbridge-Munsees who live on the isolated, rural reservation and other members nearby.

"We're pretty much a self-sustaining, sovereign nation," Schedler explained, noting that 380 tribe members are employed by the North Star Casino and Resort. "We're doing really well economically, but we know we have to work hard to make sure we have jobs for our people."

Revenue from the casino, hotel, golf course and several other businesses owned by the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe is "a huge economic support for us," she acknowledged. The reservation's health center and wastewater treatment facility were funded by the casino, whose revenue "comes back to our land and our people," Schedler added.

Hartley, a tribe member, is based in the Tribal Historic Preservation Department established last year at Russell Sage College in Troy, N.Y., an area of early Mohican settlements.

For at least 9,000 years, Hartley noted, the Mahicans had been based in villages east of the Hudson River. But as European settlers moved into the region during the 1600s, much of the tribe was relocated to the mission town of Stockbridge before enduring forced removals to the west.

Former Stockbridge Police Chief Rick Wilcox has been researching for the tribe by transcribing land deeds from 1750-1818 stored at the Berkshire Middle Registry of Deeds in Pittsfield.

Wilcox said that is a seventh-generation descendant of Isaac Ball, who purchased 100 acres from the Stockbridge Indians for 70 pounds lawful silver money in 1781. Part of that land is now the Chesterwood Museum property.

As chronicled by Hartley, the land deeds include the years when the tribe was "missionized" in Stockbridge, fought in the Revolutionary War and " was rapidly subjected to pressures yet again to vacate the land to colonists."

After tribal members were forced from the more than 23,000 acres that had been promised to them," she wrote, "they signed land deeds as they left the town. The transactions recorded in history in these land deeds make the tribe's dispossession of land very clear."

Wilcox, a longtime friend of the tribe, has transcribed about half of the 240 deeds located so far.

Hartley pointed out that the Hudson River was originally named Mahicannituck, meaning "the waters that are never still." The native American group derived its name from the river as the People of the Waters that are Never Still.

Shedler acknowledged "a sense of loss" by tribe members forced out of their original homelands. "But it happened to all tribal peoples, every tribe on the East Coast especially, between wars, devastation of disease, policies of the government and new settlers."

"But we are still here today," she pointed out. "I'm overjoyed about my ancestors, I would not be here without their perseverance, their ability to survive."

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.

If you go ...

What: Stockbridge Library Association annual meeting, featuring a presentation by members of the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians

When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday; free, open to the public, with refreshments

Where: Stockbridge Library, Museum & Archives, 46 Main St.

Information: 413-298-5501


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