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.


Darren said...


I think most individuals in both the Stockbridge-"Munsee" community and Brothertown are not aware of how mixed their tribal lineage is. You don't hear any Ninham family members ever talking about Wappinger ancestry. Tribal adoption and intermarriage have also made it extremely difficult to "quantify" Mohican, Munsee, Mohegan, Narrangansett, Montauk, etc. blood lines let distinguishing tribal citizenship over ethnic identity. For a real fun discussion you should take a look at the Welch family. Nobody wants to touch that for political reasons or fears they might be dis-enrolled.

Darren Kroenke (Brothertown Indian)

Jeff Siemers said...

Hi Darren.

Your point is well-taken by me.
I am a non-Indian - so I feel I should be careful not to make the kinds of critcisms that you just made. Nevertheless, there really isn't anything "racial" or "racist" about saying that few people actually know much at all about their ancestors.

Furthermore, the appeal of calling yourself a "Mohican," one of the most romantic of all tribes, must be hard to resist.