Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Munsees in Wisconsin: We'll Keep Trying Until We Get it Right

I have already written a few posts in which I have focused on the Munsee element in the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians now residing in Shawano County, Wisconsin. It is a topic that is so complicated that I am resolved to keep trying until I get it right.

You might say that the Munsees were a 'political football' during the nasty citizen vs. Indian partisanship (and, of course, federal Indian policies of those times tended to encourage that kind of factionalism).

Diplomats in Buckskins (right) shows that The Stockbridge Mohicans weren't the only tribe that sent delegations to Washington asking the government to change their policies.

If you have read James Oberly's A Nation of Statesmen, you have a good idea of how strings were pulled in Washington D.C. for the Indian party when the Republicans were in power and for the Citizen party when the Democrats were in power. The result was a complicated mess of conflicting realities contested between various sub-groups of Indians.

It was an Indian party goal to exclude the Munsees. As a result, members of the Indian party, their lawyers, and other advocates worked to portray the Munsees as outsiders. There certainly was a time when outsiders were welcomed into the Stockbridge community, but you may remember that was stopped with the Quinney Constitution of 1837. (You may also remember that the arrival of a band of Munsees from Canada is one of the events that led John W. Quinney to write that constitution.)

And so we have documents that tell us that there are no Munsees living among the Stockbridge Mohicans. Actually, I think that there were times when the Indian party was largely successful in getting rid of all the other Indians that sought to be part of the tribe. As a result, Indian party documents that claim that few if any Munsees were around might be accurate. I really do have my doubts about the numbers of Munsees that today's Shawano County Indians are descended from. That is a viewpoint that I advanced in a post in my New York Indian removal series in the spring of 2009.

I'm grateful that Jeremy Mohawk submitted a comment to that post recently. Mr. Mohawk stated that he is a descendant of the New York Munsee rolls of 1839 and that (including his wife, three sons and a daughter) his family "still" lives on the Shawano County Reservation. However, I imagine that if we asked Jeremy Mohawk if his Munsee ancestors had ever left the rez, he would admit to gaps of time where they had to leave. He also said "alot of folks up here have Munsee lineage, well most do." As a matter of fact, I have observed that many or perhaps even most tribal members I know personally do claim to be part Munsee. How can we reconcile that with some of the Indian party documents?

Well, we will keep on trying until we get it right. And by "we," I mean that I don't think I can add or change much without the help of further genealogical data from tribal members.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Mohican Language: Is it Worth it?

I see that Lion Miles' Mohican Dictionary is posted on Debra Winchell's History's Faces blog (look for it in the upper right-hand corner). Just a casual look at the document convinces me that he worked very hard at compiling that dictionary. More than 90 percent of the dictionary is an "English to Mohican" section, with many English words having several Mohican pronounciations.

As a layperson I have only a fuzzy understanding of all the problems involved in compiling a dictionary of a language that was not spoken for several decades as well as being a language that was already changed by white contact by the time people began to interpret or translate it. The result of those (and other) problems is that Lion Miles' dictionary - an attempt at accurately re-creating Mohican - is too complex for ordinary people like you or I to use as a guide in learning Mohican.

But, you know, that is okay. Tribes and independent groups of Indians get together for language camps and that social context is really the best place for adults to learn a language.

Jim Northrup (pictured) organizes the annual Nagaajiwanaang Ojibwe Language Camp in Sawyer, Minnesota.

The language controversy among the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians (if I understand it correctly) is that the Lenape (or Delaware/Munsee) language is being learned along with some Mohican words. For many, including the tribe's Language and Culture Committee, this is good enough. But others feel that the uniqueness of the Mohican language is being kept from being fully realized by that way of teaching.

Rainer Posselt is one tribal member in the latter camp. In his comment to one of my earlier posts he expressed his disappointment that the Language and Culture Committee is essentially teaching Lenape but calling it 'Lenape-Mohican.' As Posselt says, "just tell us it is Lenape, you don't have to lie."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The "York Tribe" in Indiana

<-- Yorktown, Indiana today.

Andy Olson, a reader from Indiana, contacted me a few months ago to tell me about his research of the New York Indians in Indiana. Although he was asking for some help with his project, I have also been able to learn things about the New York Indians from him, most significantly that the allied Brothertown, Stockbridge and Munsee Indians may have stayed in Indiana for longer than historians realize. Back in the 1820's they were known as "the York Tribe" and the modern town of Yorktown, Indiana (located in the Muncie metro area) is named after their settlement. (Of course, "Muncie" is one of the ways that "Munsee" used to be spelled.)

Andy Olson writes that he is part of the Kilgore family which owned a farm just outside of Yorktown from 1825 to 2002. And there was a " Kilgore family legend passed down" in the family that suggested that "David Kilgore [Olson's great, great, great grandfather] made a 'pact' with a departing 'York Indians' chief that neither Kilgore nor any of his descendants would disturb a burial ground on his property."

That is where it began for Andy Olson. He has now read a lot of papers at the Indiana Historical Society.

As you may remember, by the time the Stockbridges and other New York Indians made it to Indiana's White River, that land had already been purchased by the federal government for white settlement. While tribal petitions to re-designate the land did not accomplish their goal, the bureaucrats of the day at least left us with a record of New York Algonkians (men only) that were settled in the White River area as of 1819. This list is provided here courtesy of Andy Olson:

Jonas Littleman, Nicholas Jourdan, David Abrams, Johiakim Youcum, Jonas Thompson, John Littleman, Cornelius Aaron, Jehoiakim Abram, Sampson Pauskemp, Thomas Hickman, James Joshua, Henry Sukhukowrooh, Joseph Pewauqkuewheek, Abram Konnookhauthe, Cornelius Doxstater. David Neesonnuhhuk, John Baldwin, Abram Kauwaukheck, Daniel Aupehiheukum, John P. Konkpot, Aaron Nohsowwaunmut, Absalom Quinney, Isaac Littleman, [and] Sampson Owwohthemmauq.