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Stockbridge Town Meeting To Vote On Handing Over 18th Century Documents To Stockbridge Mohicans

When Stockbridge, Massachusetts, residents hold their annual Town Meeting this spring, they'll vote on whether to take steps to return centuries-old documents to the indigenous tribe that once helped govern the town.

The Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians are based in Wisconsin now. But from about 1737 until 1783, tribal members and English colonists ran Stockbridge together. The township was first known as Indian Town.

Town Meeting will be voting on returning three documents.

One was found in a box of discarded checks in the old town hall. In a previous NEPM report, Rick Wilcox, a local historian and former Stockbridge police chief, said this document – from about 1780 – is a request from the tribal leaders to hold a meeting of the Indian proprietors of the town.

The Massachusetts legislature passed a bill authorizing the town of Stockbridge to transfer this 1780 document, and others, to the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans. It is signed by tribal leaders. Former Governor Charlie Baker signed the bill into law just before he left office.
Credit courtesy Patrick White
Stockbridge Town Meeting will be voting on whether to give this 1780 document, and two others, to the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans. It is signed by tribal leaders.

"It was signed by all of the tribal leaders," Wilcox said. "And it’s absolutely incredible that it survived until now. And it’s extremely important in terms of tribal history."

Important because it shows the tribe was taking action to end its relationship with two colonists who represented the tribe in land sales, and who were doing the tribe wrong.

"Every indication from the records that I’ve looked at, that the two English settlers were helping themselves to land. And the Mohican people were already being dispossessed at a very rapid pace," Wilcox said.

Bonney Hartley is the tribe's historic preservation manager. One of the signatures on this document is her direct ancestor's, David Naunauneecannuck. Hartley said the tribe doesn't have any original documents this old.

"It's restorative to our cultural heritage," Hartley said. "Our community's been uprooted and displaced, so to have important archives back that we were separated from, when we were focused on purely survival, is really significant."

A state law requires some municipal documents created before 1870 be retained. Town Meeting will vote on whether to ask the legislature for permission to return the documents to the Mohican Nation.

If approved, the article would authorize the Select Board to petition state government for special legislation to allow the town to give the tribe the documents.

Hartley said this gesture by the town honors her ancestors and all that they went through.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.
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