STOCKBRIDGE — On a pristine, forested property at the northern tip of Monument Mountain is Fenn Farm — 351 acres of scenic undeveloped land.
The ancestral homelands once belonged to the Stockbridge Munsee Band of Mohican Indians. Last fall, it went on the market for $3 million following the death in July of owner Clover Swann, the artist, author and longtime member of the Stockbridge Land Trust.
Her former house has been carved out of the potential sale marketed by William Pitt/Sotheby’s International Realty in Great Barrington.
Last week the tribe submitted a $2.5 million funding application to the state’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Action Grant program for the purchase and conservation of the property. Grant awards are expected to be announced this summer.
“Since we’ve been dispossessed of our land out East, we’ve always attempted to reacquire our originally ceded territory,” said Shannon Holsey, tribal president based in Bowler, Wisc. “Our stars must have aligned when this property became available, with the outreach of allies and partners throughout Massachusetts to assist us.”
Holsey told The Eagle that the tribal community has sufficient resources to move forward with the land purchase, whether or not the state grant comes through.
“Our tribe has found great success in how we steward and manage our resources, so we always have reserves and money for land purchase,” she said. “So we will look to other opportunities if necessary.”
The effort to preserve the Fenn Farm and return the ancestral homelands to the tribe has strong support from the Select Board, the Stockbridge Land Trust and the Berkshire Natural Resources Council, as well as allies in Congress.
“We’re Native Americans, we’re accustomed to being told no,” Holsey said, chuckling. “We’re not just race-based, we’re politically based so we work very heavily in land acquisitions, so this isn’t anything new to us. We’re pretty sophisticated people.”
Beyond reacquiring the dispossessed land that was once home to the 18th century Stockbridge Mohicans, Holsey explained, “the goal is to support native stewardship of the site and improve native control of access to our ancestral lands and the resources to ensure that there is sustainable economic, spiritual and cultural well-being of the community for future generations.”
The state’s grant program, launched in 2017, assists communities confronting climate change impacts. More than $100 million has been awarded by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
Now, there’s expanded eligibility for federally recognized and state-acknowledged tribes such as the Stockbridge Mohican Nation. Climate-change issues dovetail with the tribe’s ongoing relationship with its natural surroundings, Holsey said.
“Native Americans don’t naturally believe in owning the land, we steward it,” she said. “Conservation isn’t just about safeguarding land, it’s about prioritizing people, and we can show the path forward.”
Appearing before the Select Board recently, Stockbridge Land Trust President Rich Bradway explained how the group has helped the tribe in its efforts.
A major goal is to establish “a steady, consistent presence here to manage that land,” he said, urging the Select Board’s support.
The board voted unanimously to issue the letter.
“This land features fields and forests, wetlands and mountain slopes, and is included in bio-maps for wildlife corridors, endangered species, and several other critical designations,” Stockbridge Select Board Chairman Patrick White wrote. “We honor, respect and fully support the Tribe’s efforts to return to their homeland with this bold acquisition.”
More than 25,000 Mohicans lived in the Upper Hudson and Housatonic valleys in the early 1600s, when the tribe dating back thousands of years first encountered Dutch colonial settlers.
“In 1734, the Mohican Nation faced the difficult decision to relocate the seat of their government to their territory in the Berkshires and accept a Christian Missionary there,” the official tribal history states, referring to Stockbridge’s first settlers in what was then known as Indian Town.
After supporting European colonists in the Revolutionary War, the tribe was forced to relocate to Oneida territory in western New York, forming the New Stockbridge Community.
In 1818, one-third of the tribe moved west to Indiana’s White River Valley. After the remaining members in New York state were dispossessed in 1829, the entire community moved to Wisconsin (then the Northwest Territory).
“Through the Treaty of 1856, the tribe’s reservation was established where the seat of their government and community of 1,500 members still remains today,” according to the tribal council history. About 750 members are direct descendants of the Stockbridge Mohicans.
As Holsey put it, “We’ve made it a point to continue our relationships [in Berkshire County] not only on behalf of our relatives and our ancestors but because it’s necessary. We still do a lot of repatriation out there.”
“Most people think our tribes are relics of the past. We’re a 21st-century sovereign nation that still exists, although not in our original ceded territory,” she said. “Unlike what history books said, there’s no such thing as ‘The Last of the Mohicans.’”
She added, “It’s really important to us to continue to robustly build our narrative, making sure people know we still exist and we still have a very vested interest in our ceded territory.”