In a classroom on the second floor of the museum, Bonney Hartley whispered a silent prayer over a box containing an ornate pair of beaded, orange and green loafers and a wampum bag while sprinkling them with tobacco and cedar from a ceremonial scholarship.
“Cedar is for protection,” she explained.
“Tobacco is our way of offering prayers. When I bring them back to our office, I’ll also light a sage and smudge them. But we just want to clean them up and welcome them home and let them know what’s happening to them. them, that they come back from here to return to our community.
Hartley’s name in Munsee is Taheekwundoheet, meaning “she has her arms around the people”. She is responsible for the tribal historic preservation of the Community of Stockbridge-Munsee, working in an office in Williamstown. It focuses on preserving the community’s cultural landmarks, overseeing the return of ancestral artifacts and remnants of colonial institutions.
The community lived in a wide swath of the northeast for centuries before the arrival of European settlers in the 1600s and was officially recognized as Stockbridge-Munsee while centered in this Berkshire community in the 1700s.
“Our ancestors fought very valiantly in the Revolutionary War alongside the new colonial America,” Hartley said. “And for those who came back to the town of Stockbridge, a lot of land had been taken by the Williams family, in particular, and others, and others obviously lost their lives in the war. And so our tribe was diminished, and in fact not really considered to have much value or use at that time for our forces around diplomacy, for example, and working with other tribes during the Revolutionary War.
After years of broken promises from the settlers, as well as unilateral agreements and outright banishment from their homeland, the Stockbridge-Munsees headed west. This is where the moccasins and wampum bag – thought to be the possessions of sachem Konkapot, a community leader in the 1700s – will eventually end up.
“They will temporarily return to our historic preservation office and then head to our Tribal Library Museum on our reservation, Wisconsin, the Arvid E. Miller Memorial Library Museum,” Hartley said. community members – again, especially direct descendants of Konkapot – can have that opportunity, see them engage directly with them, and I think add a lot of life and meaning to them too.
Hartley says recent decolonization movements and the Black Lives Matter movement have led to a renewed understanding by museums of the importance of listening to tribes as they seek to repatriate long-lost community assets.
“In 1958, when the [Berkshire] The museum got them, we were close to having a tribal archive of museums at that time, but we haven’t done that yet,” she told WAMC. “And so if there’s had objects like that, museums were often, I would say they do their best in protecting them, otherwise they risk being lost to history. But, you know, soon after, we established our own tribal archives, which we still have, and we have quite the facilities and are quite capable of maintaining those records on our own.
Although the process has become easier over the years, many obstacles remain for the Stockbridge-Munsee.
“I think the biggest problems we still face are working on the remains of related ancestors where they ended up on museum shelves,” Hartley told WAMC. , to be able to argue that we know who these people are, that we know they are our ancestors, we know that they are from our country of origin, and we articulate the case and that sometimes c is an obstacle. It got better. But I would say, the extent – I think most people are not aware of the extent to which all tribal nations are engaged in this kind of effort. In Massachusetts, there are still, I believe, about 9,000 human remains that are still on the shelves of universities and state museums.
While the Stockbridge-Munsees were unjustly uprooted from their home in the Berkshires centuries ago, Hartley says she feels a deep and immediate connection to the land.
“I often feel [that] we are guided by the work our ancestors want us to do or find. Especially when we do archeology and sites emerge, it often feels like that’s what they want us to find at that exact moment. But I think with the dynamics of the settlers as well, I think, from the 1700s to the local residents now, I think it’s still something that’s kind of an unfinished business, where there’s more accountability , as, these being Mohican homelands. You know, you can’t deny that if you dig a site or, unfortunately, a burial, you can’t deny the existence of that land. I mean, it’s just very direct evidence here on earth.