Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Name of the Stockbridge Mohicans

The photo below was taken at The Great Mohican Pow-Wow in Ohio. I include it here once again to underscore that many of the "original" Mohicans migrated to the Ohio River Valley long before the Stockbridge Mohicans came together in Massachusetts.

I've already written two posts on this subject. Those posts received more comments than I usually get and all they really covered was the confusion surrounding the name of the tribe known in this blog as the Stockbridge Mohicans.

In The Mohicans and the Stockbridge Mohicans I argued that a historical change in the makeup of the "Mohican" people makes it confusing to use the same name across all historical periods. Then in The Mohicans and the Mahicans I argued that there really isn't an accepted distinction between those two different forms of the word "Mohican." Recently I've given the Mohican/Mahican issue further thought, and decided that those two different spellings which are the same except for a single vowel, should not, in my opinion, represent different meanings because the difference in pronounciation is so small. It seems to me that the difference in pronounciation between "Mohican" and "Mahican" is smaller than the variations in pronouncing practically any single word by two people with different regional accents. So not only is the Mohican/Mahican distinction not well known or observed, but, in my opinion, it wouldn't end the confusion even if it was known and observed by many people.

Like I've said before, a group of people can call themselves whatever they want. Nevertheless, after taking the time to point out problems with the status quo, I figure I might as well offer what I think is the best solution. Let the tribe and everybody else ignore this post if they want, but I might as well put it out there.

If it comes down to one word, most of the tribe likes to call themselves "Mohicans." One exception was a man who posted a comment to the Mohican Seven forum saying he prefers "Stockbridge" because it is more historically accurate. I use "Stockbridge Mohicans" as the name of the tribe because the people identify with the word "Mohican" and the word "Stockbridge" makes it clear which Mohicans they are.

So there you have it, the tribe from about 1740 to the present should - in my opinion - be called the Stockbridge Mohicans.

A reader of my Mohican/Mahican post said he thought the original Algonkian languages can tell us a lot about what name or names a tribe should take for itself. If he was onto something, then we might want to call the pre-Stockbridge Mohicans the "Muhheconnew" people and call their land or their old nation the "Muhhecunnuck." There are other possible names to use for the pre-Stockbridge Mohicans, one would be the "Aboriginal Mohicans."

Anyway, I'm content to think that I've said enough about this topic.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Mohicans and the Mahicans

The beautiful scene below was "borrowed" from the official website of the Stockbridge-Munsee Community (they are usually referred to here as the Stockbridge Mohicans).

In July, my post "The Mohicans and the Stockbridge Mohicans" was intended to raise the issue of how current and historical tribal names have brought about a lot of confusion. Or, to be more precise, names by themselves don't necessarily generate confusion, but a tribe that is made up of remnants of various tribes may want to be careful in what they choose to be called.

Comments that were posted to that post have raised a possible solution. In particular, a tribal elder - she uses "Maaliish" as her screen name - used the words "Mohican" and Mahican" in different ways - without explaining the difference. Well, I think the difference for that tribal elder is based on something that James Oberly (2005, page 5) wrote:
Anthropologists say that the term "Mohican" characterized the seventeenth century union of three groups of Indian villages in what is now the Hudson River Valley of New York State: the "Mahicans," the Wappingers, and the Housatonics.
From that passage it may seem that the term "Mahicans" is now only used for the original 'full-bloods' as it were, while the word "Mohicans" is only used to describe the modern tribe that includes the descendants of "Wappingers" and "Housatonics."

But I don't take Oberly literally there. I mean, do you really think that "anthropologists" went to the trouble of defining a distinction between "Mahican" and "Mohican"? Even if anthropologists came to an agreement on the proper use of those words, do you believe that a critical mass of ordinary people (like you and I and members of the tribe) have changed their speech to properly reflect the pronounciations and meanings that were coined by those anthropologists?

I give James Oberly a lot of credit for addressing the issue that I raised in "The Mohicans and the Stockbridge Mohicans" and I don't blame him for making it seem like it was already addressed by anthropologists. He needed to address it but didn't have the time to bother writing whole paragraphs on it like I did.

Furthermore, I give Maaliish a lot of credit for using Oberly's distinction. But that is exactly my point: Except for a few people who remember what Oberly wrote on page five, I'm afraid to say the distinction doesn't exist.

I have promoted James Oberly's book here in the past and I really don't see what I'm saying now as negative. In my experience, something that is mentioned once in a book seldom changes our language.

But if the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians really wants to stop the confusion, it can be done. It can be done (partly) by addressing the issue in the tribe's newspaper. It can be done (partly) by addressing it at the tribe's museum. And it can done (partly) by addressing the name issue legally the next time a new tribal constitution is written. Since I haven't been keeping tabs on the tribe lately, maybe this kind of thing is already being done. If so, I'd like to hear about it.

And maybe I'm just a raving lunatic. I mean, I like things to be clear. A lot of other people - on this issue and other issues - don't seem to mind if the waters are muddied. What do you think?