box with Mohican moccasins and wampum pouch (copy)

Moccasins and a wampum pouch from the 1700s that are attributed to Mohican sachem John Konkapot and have been in the Berkshire Museum’s collection since 1958, were officially returned to the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians on Thursday.

When the Berkshire Museum returned a pair of moccasins and a wampum pouch to the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians, it was officially deemed a “transfer of custody.” But it was also a recognition of history, a purposeful tracing of the line between a proud but persecuted people and the place they still call home.

That place is here in what’s now called the Berkshires, even as the Stockbridge-Munsee are now located in Wisconsin after centuries of broken promises, brutal treatment and forced removal at the hands of the expanding American empire. Not all of our country’s history is pretty, but if we care about any of it we must reckon with all of it. That obligation, often relegated to an intellectual dimension, has a material one, too, as these 18th-century artifacts remind us. That especially goes for institutions like museums. We praise the Berkshire Museum for living up to that obligation, as well as the Stockbridge-Munsee Community for graciously partnering to make it happen.

We must acknowledge that, like these artifacts, so much of our history originates with this land’s first inhabitants, even as the forces of settler-colonialism systematically attempted to erase and marginalize those peoples and their own ties to that history. We can’t change the past, nor can we afford to look away from it. Rather, history must inform our movement through the present. The museum’s return of these items to the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians is a small but necessary step on this path toward real reconciliation.

It’s a morally necessary journey that has been chartered by the tribe and its magnanimous collaborations with regional leaders, from the critical work of the Stockbridge-Munsee office at Williams College and the enlightening “Muh-he-con-ne-ok” exhibit in Stockbridge.

They have held up an admirable model of how to appraise the fullness of history in such a way that gives voice to the historically silenced and agency to Indigenous communities with regard to how crucial pieces of their culture and history are treated. We hope its example is followed in many more rightful returns to come.