Monday, September 28, 2009

Fight for the Stockbridge Bible: The Long Standoff

This photo of Mabel Choate's inscription in the Stockbridge Bible was taken by Jeff Siemers, in October, 2003, with the permission of the Arvid E. Miller Museum staff.

In recent posts I've portrayed individuals associated with The Trustees of Reservations between 1975 and the 1980's as stubborn and even insensitive, but the Trustees truly were legally bound to keep the contents of the Mission House Museum that was founded by Mabel Choate. The two-volume Stockbridge Bible, of course, was one of the contents of that museum. While it could be argued that Mabel Choate acquired the Bible illegally, the Stockbridge Mohicans don't appear to have done a sufficient job of making that point. In fairness to the Trustees of Reservations at that time, I should point out that in all the documents that I have read and re-read, the Stockbridge Mohicans didn't acknowledge the Trustees' legal obligation towards the Stockbridge Bible until 1989.

The Trustees of Reservations did offer members of the tribe an opportunity to visit them in Massachusetts for the purpose of presenting whatever evidence they had that the two-volume Bible should be sent back to the tribe. I have an undated photocopy of a list of evidence that tribal members apparently drew up in the early to mid-1980's. While the list gives many sources which verify that the Indians once owned the Stockbridge Bible, no part of the list addresses the question of the legality of the John Sergeant Memorial Presbyterian Church's sale of the that Bible to Mabel Choate.

Members of the Bible Return Committee and the Trustees of Reservations each knew enough about the Stockbridge Bible to understand their own viewpoint. Both sides had essentially dug in their heels and the only communications between them for several years were conducted by lawyers.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Kim Vele's Priorities as Tribal Attorney in the 1980s

The Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians' Tribal Council, 2009:
Front row L to R: Greg Miller, Robert Chicks, Terrie Terrio

Back Row L to R: Doug Huck, Kimberly Vele, Jolene Bowman, Joe Miller

When Konkapot descendant, Kimberly Vele graduated from law school in 1984 it was almost unheard of for recent graduates to return to the reservation, but she and a few others set out to reverse that trend. "Indian Law was for hippies" back then, Vele told me. As tribal attorney in the mid 1980's she tried to make the return of the Stockbridge Bible a priority. In researching the case, Vele found The Trustees of Reservations to be aloof. "I wanted questions to specific answers and it seemed they hoped we would just go away" she recollected.

Ultimately Kim Vele was forced to put the return of the Stockbridge Bible on the back burner in order to deal with other issues. The Wolf River Batholith, a landform that encompasses the Stockbridge reservation, was one of twelve possible sites chosen by the National Nuclear Waste Repository Program when Vele was the tribal attorney. Batholiths were considered to be the safest landforms in regard to nuclear waste, and since many Indian reservations are located on batholiths, seven of the twelve sites that the federal government was looking at were located in Indian Country.

Until she left the tribal attorney job in 1987, Kim Vele focused her efforts on preventing the Wolf River Batholith from being selected as a nuclear waste repository site. One day she testified in Washington, D.C. before the Senate Subcommittee on Energy and Power, explaining that if the Wolf River Batholith was chosen as a nuclear waste site, it would make the Stockbridge Mohicans' reservation useless, except possibly for grazing. While watching the news on television that night in her hotel room, Vele learned that "Chernobyl had blown up." A few weeks later, the tribe received a letter announcing there would be no more grant funds to study environmental impacts due to the fact that the entire Nuclear Waste Repository Program was being suspended indefinitely.

Kim Vele's efforts to bring the Stockbridge Bible back to the reservation in Shawano County, Wisconsin resulted only in a terse 1986 letter from The Trustees of Reservations, saying that their position hadn't changed.

Sources: Telephone interviews with Kim Vele (6/2004 and 4/14/2006), and a photocopy of a letter from the Trustees of Reservations to Kim Vele.

The Stockbridge Bible: The Fight Is On

**This post is part of an ongoing series on the Stockbridge Bible***

The Trustees of Reservations explained to Tribal Chairman Leonard Miller in an October, 27, 1975 letter, that "because of questions of law and on the advice of its counsel," it could not and would not hand over the Stockbridge Bible.

Retired Episcopal Bishop Anson P. Stokes emerged as the leader of a Massachusetts group that advocated on the tribe's behalf. But ultimately the group realized it wouldn't win. The Bishop was told by a member of the Trustees that if his group tried to collect money for a lawyer, the trustees would "Hire the best lawyers in Boston to fight in court and ...spare no expense to crushingly defeat" those who were in favor of sending the Bible back to Wisconsin.

The Stockbridge Mohicans themselves eventually had their own meetings and formed a Bible Recovery Committee. The committee explored legal avenues they might use to get their tribal Bible back. But they were also looking at the issue from its moral and historical aspects. In 1981, Dorothy Davids self-published a booklet, The Stockbridge Bible: Documents Related to Their Recovery, which raised awareness on the controversy. In addition to exploring legal avenues, the tribe was now employing a new strategy: they asked sympathetic people and groups to speak out on their feelings about who should rightfully own the sacred volumes. They even hoped to embarrass the Trustees of Reservations into returning the Stockbridge Bible.

Ted Brasser was an anthropologist working at Canada's Museum of Man (now known as the Museum of Civilization, pictured right), when he became a pioneer in Mohican research. (One of my earliest posts was about his book, Riding the Frontier's Crest.) While Brasser was one of many, many people who wrote to the Trustees of Reservations, I found his letter to be particularly powerful and on-target:

In my training as an anthropologist, I have been admonished never to collect, or support the collecting of ethnographic objects that are still considered as important symbols of cultural identity and historical continuity by the ethnic group in question. This is particularly true where it involves the religious emotions of the people who own or use these objects. Working in a museum I am acquainted with the problems created by over-eager amateur collectors.
It may strike you as rather odd to treat an eighteenth-century Bible in an ethnographic context. However, it will be obvious to everybody learning the dramatic history of the Stockbridge Indians that this Bible was their Covenant's Ark during the many years of bitter hardship. Holding on to this Bible these people survived the brutalities of the old American frontiers as staunch Christians. In addition, and in spite of repeated betrayal by newcomers, the Stockbridges volunteered and fought for your ancestors in the American War of Independence, at a disastrous loss of human life to the tribe. It was around this Bible that the survivors gathered and moved west, to make way for your ancestors. Viewed in this perspective it is clear that this Bible to the Stockbridges is more than merely a valuable antique piece.

To my knowledge, Brasser's letter was never acknowledged by The Trustees of Reservations.

*Thanks to the Arvid E. Miller Memorial Library-Museum for preserving and allowing me to photocopy many documents related to the Stockbridge Bible, including Ted Brasser's letter and the one sent to Chairman Miller by the Trustees of Reservations in 1975.
*Thanks to Rev. Richard Taylor, one of the members of Rev. Stokes' Massachusetts-based advocacy group for his letter to me, of June 4, 2004.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Miller to the Trustees: You Have Our Bible

This photo of the first volume of the Stockbridge Bible was taken by Jeff Siemers with permission of the staff of the Arvid E. Miller Memorial Library-Museum in the fall of 2003.
After Mabel Choate died, the Mission House Museum and its contents became the legal responsibility of The Trustees of Reservations. As you'll remember from my previous post, some of the tribe's young people, after seeing the Stockbridge Bible, decided that the tribe should try to get it back. Tribal Council Chairman Leonard Miller took that idea seriously and on August 27, 1975, wrote a letter to The Trustees of Reservations. Miller wrote:

The Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe has knowledge of your possession of our Tribal Bibles presented to us by the Prince of Wales to be forever in our possession.
Miller also asserted that the two volumes had been obtained in an "illegal" transaction and asked that the request for them be considered "at the earliest convenience."

By the time that letter was written, however, the request to get the Stockbridge Bible returned to the tribe had already been made informally. In fact, the issue had already been discussed by the Trustees of Reservations in Massachusetts. The local newspaper, The Berkshire Eagle, printed an article about it on the day before Miller wrote his letter. The paper quoted Andrew Mack, the chairman of the Local Committee of the Trustees:

It is appropriate to have the Bible in the Mission House where Mr. Sergeant received the Indians.... As far as we know, over the years, as long as we've had the Bible, the Indians were satisfied.

Maybe he didn't realize that John Sergeant's wife Abigail had the Mission House designed so that the Indians could be required to use the back door when they wanted to visit with their missionary. In light of that fact, and in light of how the important the Bible had been to the tribe for so many years, I think Mr. Mack's comments were both ignorant and insensitive.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Gone But Not Forgotten: The Stockbridge Bible 1931-1975

In recent years, the Stockbridge Mohicans have made a historical trip out east almost annually. During one of the tribe's earliest organized trips back to Stockbridge, Massachusetts (I believe it was in 1975), tribal members were invited to a party at the home of Norman Rockwell and his third wife, Molly. At that time the artist happened to be working on a painting of Rev. John Sergeant and Captain John Konkapot. Rockwell died in 1978 and the painting you see below was never finished.

Not many of the Stockbridge Mohicans knew what happened to their tribal Bible. When one small congregation - made up mostly of Indians, but also some whites - decided to sell the two volumes to a museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, they didn't bother to ask the rest of the tribe permission. Why should they? As they saw it, the Stockbridge Bible was the property of their church.

Since the Presbyterians felt no shame in selling what they believed was their own property, they had no reason to keep the sale a secret. Nevertheless, it seems that only a few non-Presbyterian Indians (such as Samuel Miller) knew that the Bible was back in Massachusetts. There was some protesting, or at least complaining, of what had happened, but by that time the relics were already gone.

The first well-known historical trip to Massachusetts by a family of Stockbridge Indians was in 1951. That year James Davids (an uncle of Clarence Chicks) brought his family east to see the sights of the town that their ancestors came from. Thelma Davids Putnam (a sister of James Davids) recorded that event (pages 57-58):

To their great surprise, they found the great two volume Bible was in the old Mission House in that town. In the vague rumors we heard they maybe were at the Smithsonian Institute. The Davids' were delighted to see the Bibles...

Since that time others have traveled to Massachusetts and have had the wonderful experience of seeing the land of our forefathers and have viewed our Bibles...

At that point (page 58) Thelma Davids Putnam tells of groups that went to see the Stockbridge Bible in 1968 and 1972. The next trip was made in 1975 with the following people loaded into four cars: The adults: Dorothy Davids, Ruth Gaudinas, Bernice Miller Pidgeon, Margaret Rausch, Sheila Moede, and Linda Kroening. The youth: Kay Miller, Fran Miller, Jackie Miller, Mark Davids, Renee Granquist, Vickie Bowman, Carmen Cornelius, Nikki Moede, and Leslie Kroening.

It was the young people of the 1975 trip who were the first to suggest that the tribe should try to bring the Stockbridge Bible back to the reservation in Shawano County, Wisconsin.

*Thanks to Dorothy Davids for an e-mail in 2003 in which she responded to my question about the unfinished Norman Rockwell painting.
*Thanks to JoAnn Schedler, Interim Director of the Arvid E. Miller Memorial Museum in the fall of 2003 for letting me have a copy of the unfinished painting.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Samuel Miller: Chief Uhm-Pa-Tuth

A few years ago I was doing some research in the Arvid E. Miller Memorial Library-Museum (the Stockbridge Mohicans' museum), and John Miller, the tribe's Director of Human Resources came in and passed around an article (from the May 19, 2004 issue of The Country Today) about a deceased relative of his, Samuel Miller. Actually, the article is really about a white person's childhood memory of seeing Miller's alter ego, "Chief Uhm-Pa-Tuth," during one of his speaking tours.

Samuel Miller's speaking tours or lecture circuits were designed to accomplish two goals: 1) to raise money for Lutheran missions to Indians and 2) to dispel some stereotypes that white people had about Indians. Wearing a Sioux headress, however, may have fed into some of the stereotyping that he was crusading against.

Like most performers, Uhm-Pa-Tuth mostly spoke to rather small crowds. However, when a nationwide Lutheran body celebrated the 400th Anniversary of the Augsburg Confession, the Chief appeared in front of a packed house of 3000 people at the Strand Theater in Albany, New York. (Incidentally, his speech that night was also put on the airwaves by a local radio station.)

During that stay in Albany, Samuel Miller decided that he wanted to visit Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The Berkshire County Eagle (see photocopy above) had quite a lot to say about Miller's visit, including that he took "great interest" in the Stockbridge Bible and the communion set which had been acquired by Mabel Choate only a few months earlier. In fact, Miller apparently told a reporter that he had corresponded with a "Rev. C. Williams Fisher," (maybe he actually said "Thomas Knox Fisher," a Presbyterian minister to the Stockbridge Mohicans from 1889 to 1891).

Unfortunately for us, exactly what Samuel Miller may have felt or thought about the Stockbridge Bible - and the fact that it was now in white hands - was not something that was covered by the Berkshire County Eagle.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Language Geek's "Mahican" Page

I'm thoroughly impressed with Christopher Harvey, or "Language Geek," as he is known on the web. I haven't met Mr. Harvey, but according to his website, he speaks English, French, and Welsh, and has studied Spanish, Irish Gaelic, Ancient Greek, Cree, Mohawk, Ojibway, Dinka, Latin, Hungarian, Korean, Innu, and Esperanto.

Language Geek's Mahican page got a healthy dose of "street cred" a few days ago when it was recommended on the Mohican 7 Yahoo subscription group. In my view, his website also has whatever kind of credibility I can give it. Chris Harvey has obviously done an awful lot of work on Native languages.

Ojibwa and Cree are the two languages (or dialects) from the Algonkian language family that Chris Harvey has studied formally. That expertise not only transfered into a knowledge of the hybrid language Oji-Cree, but also at least a working knowledge of the other Algonkian languages.

Language Geek has a Menominee page - it looks impossible to learn if you ask me (in case you don't know, Menominee is also an Algonkian language). Unfortunately, however, he leaves us with nothing on the Delaware language.

Language Geek warns that the content of his Mahican page is tentative to "VERY tentative." That explains why he doesn't have it linked to his main site. ("Mahican" is just a different spelling [or should I say different pronounciation] of "Mohican.")

Wâg g’nawenòhmâ!
(That means "good-bye [to many people], I'll see you again!")

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Stockbridge Bible is Sent Back to Massachusetts

Pictured below is the inscription that Captain Thomas Coram wrote in both volumes of the Stockbridge Bible (the two inscriptions are not worded exactly the same, however).
There's a great temptation to think of the Stockbridge Bible as nothing more than a crumb that fell from the British table. I understand the basis of that line of reasoning myself. A series of wars in the 1700's had the British competing with the French for control of much of North America. The British and French were the world's superpowers and Stockbridge, Massachusetts just happened to be strategically located from a military standpoint.

But at least some of the British were genuinely excited about the success of the mission town from a religious/spiritual point of view. I like to think of the gift of the Stockbidge Bible in that context.

We are now up to the point where Mabel Choate, after consulting an expert on the matter, makes an offer of $1000 for the two-volume Bible and the communion set that has been associated with it. If you account for inflation, she was offering roughly $13,000 in today's money for the relics. It wasn't a ripoff.

Or was it?

It was a "good faith" transaction as far as the people involved were concerned. In fact, later claims that the deal was conducted "privily" only seem to reflect the bias of those who didn't belong to the John Sergeant Memorial Presbyterian Church. (Then again, that was the vast majority of the tribe.)

In the words of Captain Coram's inscription, the Stockbridge Bible was given to "the Indian Congregation."

To members of the Sergeant Memorial Church that meant it was church property. To Lutheran members of the tribe with an awareness of the tribe's church history, that same phrase meant the Stockbridge Bible was tribal property. In my own mind I have gone back and forth many times on this issue. It is a question that would have certainly come into play if ownership of the Bible had ever been contested in a court of law.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

The bottom line is that the members of the John Sergeant Memorial Presbyterian Church voted unanimously to accept Mabel Choate's offer.

And so the Stockbridge Bible was sent back to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, to sit in Mabel Choate's Mission House Museum.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

People of the Wild Rice

To your right is part of a drawing that was digitized for the Wisconsin State Historical Society's
"Turning Points in Wisconsin History" collection. It had appeared in the American Anthropologist many years before that.

Unlike some topics covered in this blog, there is no shortage of media coverage on wild rice (and in most cases, one of the first things mentioned is that it is not technically rice). Wild rice is such a healthy food that it is recommended by people like Dr. Andrew Weil. Although the Indians that lived in the Great Lakes region before white contact didn't have nutritionists, or dieticians, they knew the value of their special food.

As a matter of fact, they fought wars over it.

In the August, 1974 National Geographic article about the Menominees, a caption on page 239 explains that the Indian word for wild rice is "manomen," and the Menominees got their name from it. And so I came to think of the Menominees as the people of the wild rice.

However, a couple years ago when I was driving through the Bad River Chippewa reservation on my way to Ashland (WI), I saw a hand-painted sign that said "Manomen." I turned my vehicle around and went back to the house that had that sign along the side of the highway. The man selling the authentic wild rice was taking a nap, so I wound up talking to his college-age nephews for a little while. When I said something about how the Menominees were the "people of the wild rice," the two men became animated. They were emphatic, no they said, "we are the people of the wild rice! They were here but we kicked their [---]! Yeah we kicked their [---], that was before you guys [white people] were here." So I guess I didn't need to read about the wild rice wars, I learned it orally.

This photo, taken by a National Park Service employee, illustrates Wikipedia's entry on the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

The Lost tribes theory is one aspect of Algonkian Church History that I've been somewhat neglectful of. In future posts, I will present evidence that at least some of the Stockbridge Mohicans believed that they were the descendants of the lost tribes of Israel (white people actually advanced that theory first and that is documented in some of my earlier posts). Anyway, when I first heard of the lost tribes theory it seemed ridiculous to me. But there are a few pieces of evidence that have made me seriously wonder about it lately. One is just the Algonkian word "Manomen." It is awfully close to the word "Manna." The special food that the Great Spirit gave to the Menominees sounds an awful lot like the special food that the Old Testament's God sent to the ancient Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Stockbridge-Munsee Community, Genealogy, and a lot more

Do you remember this magazine cover? In 2006, Time named "You" as their person of the year. Blogs are part of the "social media," and Algonkian Church History is no exception. Although I have lots of ideas about where this blog is headed, I also like to respond to your questions and comments. I've had a few of them recently, plus a few that I've put on the "back burner," so let's get to it.

Scott Seaborne pointed out that the tribe which I refer to here as the "Stockbridge Mohicans" legally adopted "Stockbridge-Munsee Community" as their name in their 1937 constitution. He asked me if I knew why and added that he'd heard that the federal government expected or required once-unrecognized tribes to use the word "community" in their name. I don't know how the name "Stockbridge-Munsee Community" was chosen, or who chose it. All I can say is that the tribe is in the process of writing a new constitution now and maybe they'll give themselves a different name.

Genealogist Debra Winchell has agreed to write a guest-post for Algonkian Church History. She is from New York State and one of a number of people that I had a chance to talk to when I attended the Algonquian Peoples Conference in Albany during the spring of 2007. Starting from nothing more than a rumor that there was Indian blood in her family, Debra researched her ancestors all the way back to John Van Gelder, a Mohican-Wappinger.

I'm also looking forward to a guest post from an accomplished blogger whose screen name is Dumneazu. Since he has formal training in Algonkian languages, his contribution should be valuable.

Daniel Burr is trying to prove that he's a descendant of both the Housatonic Mohican Chief Konkapot and the renowned Mohegan/Brothertown minister Samson Occom (also spelled Occum). Although I do not question that some of his ancestors were named Konkapot, one expert, Lion Miles, of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, says that not all of the Konkapots were descendants of the original Konkapot. One family apparently took on that name in honor of the chief. Whether or not Daniel Burr is descended from Samson Occom depends on the truth or falsehood of a statement preserved in the old book Samson Occom and the Christian Indians of New England by W. DeLoss Love.

I'll quote from Daniel Burr's e-mail here:
I am looking for a Samson Occum who was a grandson of Rev.Samson Occum from his son Andrew Gifford Occum.W. Deloss Love's book Samson Occom and the Christian Indians of New England states this under Rev Samson's family son Andrew Gifford, born 1774 went to Brothertown, and had a lot there which he leased April 12,1792. He married, and his death occurred before 1796, when "widow Patience Occum" was given lot 41. They had a son, Samson Occum, who lived at Brothertown, received part of lot 19 in 1827, and removed, it is said, with his wife Elizabeth to the White River, Some Indians say he joined the Stockbridge tribe. Writing his name Yoccum,and has descendants among them.
There was a Housatonic Mohican living in the 1700's whose name was spelled "Yocun," "Yokun," "Yocon," "Yokim," and "Yocum," (according to page 367 of Shirley Dunn's book The Mohican World 1680-1750,) it is more likely (in my opinion) that Daniel Burr is descended from that Housatonic Mohican than he is from Samson Occom.

Another reader, Carleen Vandezande, has taken the trouble to get me some papers form the Madison County Historical Society in New York. According to one of the papers, Samson Occom returned from his preaching tour in Britain with a gold-plated walkingstick. There was also a lot of information on an Iroquois chief named Skenendoah. As a convert to Christianity, his story could become the topic of a future post.