|Stockbridge-Munsee Community Reclaims Some of Its History|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff |
07:04AM / Saturday, September 26, 2020
|The Williams College-owned building at 84 Spring St. will be the new home of the Stockbridge-Munsee Community’s Tribal Historic Preservation Extension Office.|
A World War II-era mural of Ephraim Wiliams and Mohawk leader Theyanoguin is being removed from the Log to Special Collections as part of the college's examination of its history and relationship with the area and community.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — More than two centuries after they were displaced from lands now known as Berkshire County, the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians are coming back to the Berkshires.
Last week, the president of Williams College announced to the school community that the college will provide office space to the Stockbridge-Munsee Community's Tribal Historic Preservation Extension Office.
The community's director of cultural affairs said this week that the group is relocating its current regional office from Troy, N.Y., east to Williamstown as part of a plan to create a stronger partnership with the liberal arts college.
"The goal is to help form a relationship with the college, not just through historic preservation, but there are programs at Williams like Native American studies and archaeology programs that we'd love to be a part of," Heather Bruegl said from her office in Bowler, Wis., site of the headquarters for the Stockbridge-Munsee Band.
"It's not just an office space. We're looking to form a relationship with the college."
She said it is just one of many partnerships with cultural and educational institutions that the Stockbridge-Munsee Community is looking to build in the years ahead.
The new office will be located at 84 Spring St., in the heart of Williamstown's commercial district. Bruegl said the move from Troy is scheduled to be completed by mid-October.
"Our Historic Preservation program now consists of two people, a historic preservation manager and a tribal historic preservation officer," Bruegl said. "Historic Preservation is a small program tasked with such important programs to get done.
"We're hoping -- obviously not right now due to the pandemic -- that the program can become larger and encompass hopefully more staff, interns, anything that we can. We want to grow a successful Cultural Affairs department and successful Historic Preservation program."
The move to the North Berkshire location is coincidental with a recent grant from the South County town of Stockbridge for an archaeological dig in the town. The Stockbridge-Munsee Community is seeking qualified archaeological firms to help unearth the site of a 1783 ox roast feast sponsored by George Washington "to honor the Tribe for service in the Revolutionary War," according to a request for proposals issued by the community.
"Berkshire County is part of our ancestral homelands, and Stockbridge plays a significant part in our history," Bruegl said. "We're so excited we were awarded these grants. We may be able to find some architectural sites that might have been lost. … We have significant history there in Stockbridge, and it's something we're constantly trying to bring to light."
The Mohican people once occupied land from what is now Lake Champlain south to what is now Manhattan Island and west from the Schoharie Creek in modern New York State east into Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut, according to the Stockbridge-Munsee website. After the American Revolution, the Mohican people were driven west into central New York State and, eventually, farther west to Indiana and ultimately Wisconsin by the expansion of the United States.
Williams College's Mandel announced the new partnership with the Stockbridge-Munsee Community as part of a longer message titled "Toward Racial Justice and Inclusion," that discusses how the college plans to continue addressing inequity, both in society and within its walls.
"During this academic year, the Committee on Diversity and Community will, as part of their charge, consider how the college can create a communally accountable institutional history that addresses our relationship to slavery, to the native populations who lived or live in this region, and to other aspects of our institutional past, and to recommend ways we can document, acknowledge and engage in restorative actions to address that legacy," Mandel wrote.
As part of that effort, the college plans to remove from the Log, a popular eatery and gathering spot for the college community, a World War II-era mural depicting Ephraim Williams and "Mohawk leader Theyanoguin." The mural will be removed to the college library's Special Collections facility, so it can, "be preserved as artifacts for scholarly study, rather than displayed as decorative objects in our alumni and community gathering-space," Mandel wrote.
The Log is located next door to 84 Spring St., new home of the Stockbridge-Munsee Community's Tribal Historic Preservation Extension Office.
Bruegl said the community's home in Williamstown, a place named for an officer who battled indigenous people in the 18th-century's French and Indian War, is "extremely significant."
"It's our way of reclaiming something, I would say," Bruegl said. "I'm a historian by training. I think with everything that's happening in society today, it's only fitting that we're able to go back to a place that we called home, that we might have lost through not the best of means.
"But the institution there now is working extremely hard to right past wrongs. I think that's so significant and goes to show it doesn't matter what the institution is, if you understand your history and understand that there was some wrong committed and reach out to correct that, really powerful things can happen."