Thursday, July 18, 2013
Jeanette "Granny" Gardner: A Living Bridge
The 1930's was a pivital time for the Stockbridge Mohicans. In the political sphere, the Indian New Deal gave them a chance to regain federal recognition, purchase land that was once theirs, and have a piece of it proclaimed a reservation again.
But the 1930's were just as important to the Stockbridges from a cultural point of view.
On the downside, William Dick, the last speaker of the Mohican language, died and the Stockbridge Bible was sold in a transaction that many of today's tribal members regard as illegal. (That is a moot point, however, since the Bible was returned to the tribe in 1991.)
Anyway, on the positive side, Granny Gardner was 100 years old in 1930 and she survived for six more years. I have seen some literature put out by the Lutheran Church which boasted that, at age 98, "'Granny' Gardner" was "the oldest Lutheran Indian in America." It also said that she was still making splint baskets with no tools other than a jacknife and her own hands.
Jeanette (her given name) was an Oneida by birth. When she was nine years old her grandmother sent her off to Wisconsin Territory, where the New York Indians were a somewhat closeknit community. Our heroine became part of the Stockbridge community when she married Jeremiah Gardner.
The thing about Granny Gardner that is so important is that she was a medicine woman. And not just a medicine woman, but the oldest known link in a thread of knowledge that continues to this day. The Stockbridge Mohicans have worked really hard at reviving their language and other cultural ways. But herbal medicine seems to be the one field of knowledge that was never really "lost," forcing tribal leaders to get help from other tribes to bring it back.
Granny Gardner taught the Native medicine to her granddaughters, Ella (Bowman) Besaw and Mary (Bowman) Burr. Ella Besaw passed the knowledge on to her son, Dave Besaw. Dave had been the administrator of the tribe's clinic until arthritis forced him to retire early. He stayed actvie in retirement and passed on his knoweldge to Misty (Davids) Cook. While speaking before a sizable audience at the 2011 tribal history conference, Besaw announced that his apprentice was ready to practice traditional healing. The torch was passed. About six weeks later Dave Besaw died.
Postscript: Misty (Davids) Cook has written and published a book about traditional medicine. She ignored a request from this reporter to be interviewed. However, if you want to purchase the book, I have the following information to share, thanks to the August 15, 2013 issue of Mohican News "According to Cook, the book will be available for $35 via contacting her at 715-851-2848 or via email at niconishkawah[at]yahoo.com.