Acknowledging Mohicans: Indigenous Land Back movement touches Copake

Bradley Pitts, Chair of the Mohican Allyship Committee of the Copake Town Board, shows a slide demarcating the Mohican ancestral homelands during his lecture, “Mohican Heritage: Past, Present, and Future,” at the Roeliff Jansen Historical Society in Copake Falls on March 17.

L. Tomaino

Acknowledging Mohicans: Indigenous Land Back movement touches Copake

COPAKE — Bradley Pitts, Chair of the Town of Copake’s newly established Mohican Allyship Committee, opened the lecture “Mohican Heritage: Past Present, and Future” at the Roeliff Jansen Historical society in Copake Falls on Sunday, March 17 with the question, “What is land acknowledgement?”

Patty Krawec, author of “Becoming Kin” and a member of the Anishnaabe people, has written:

“Land acknowledgements are a moment to pause and reflect on the relationship that exists between the current residents and those who were displaced.” She asks, “What does it mean to live on stolen land? You may not be guilty of the act of dispossession, but it is a relationship you have inherited.”

The recent history of the Mohicans (The People of the Waters that Are Never Still) is one of repeated displacement and dispossession by European settlers.

In 1609, when Henry Hudson sailed up the Hudson, the Mohican lands stretched “across six states from Southwest Vermont, the entire Hudson River Valley of New York, from Lake Champlain to Manhattan, western Massachusetts up to the Connecticut River Valley, northwest Connecticut, and portions of Pennsylvania and New Jersey,” writes Dorothy Davids her “Brief History of the Mohican Nation.”

Pitts stressed that for Indigenous people, land ownership is a European settler concept and is far different from how Indigenous people regard the land. When 17th- or 18th-century Mohicans they signed a deed or sold land, they did not expect to never be allowed to return to it. They expected it to be shared as land had always been shared, that they could still hunt, fish, and travel through it. Instead, they were pushed into smaller and smaller territories while the European settlers built houses, farms, and towns on the lands they had once cared for.

In the 1660s, as the colonies grew, the Mohicans were being “squeezed from east and west.”

By 1734, many Mohicans were located near the Housatonic River in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. They allowed missionaries to build a church and school, but after the Revolutionary War, which Mohicans faught alongside the colonists, they returned to find that their lands near the Housatonic had been taken through “debt and mortgage and often fraudulent means” and also that “plans had already been made to remove them from Stockbridge.”

In the 1780s, many moved to New Stockbridge, New York, at the invitation of the Oneidas. They again settled and built homes and planted crops, and after several years, European immigrants again moved north, claimed the land, and forced further displacement.

This scenario played out again and again with the Mohicans. By the 1820s, much of the tribe had moved to Kaukauna, Wisconsin; by the 1840s, to land near Lake Winnebago.

In 1856, they signed a treaty with the Menominee Nation for access to the land where they remain today, which is located in Shawano County, Wisconsin. Today, nown as the Stockbridge-Munsee Community, there are “approximately 1500 enrolled Tribal members, about a third of whom live on the Wisconsin Reservation.”

Another concept that sometimes means different things to settlers’ inheritors and Indigenous people is the concept of “land back.”

An example of Land Back took place in 2023 on Monument Mountain, where 351 acres of land were returned to the Mohican people. This was made possible by the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Program (MVP), which, explained Pitts, “provides local communities with funding and technical assistance to implement climate resilience projects.”

Shannon Holsey, Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans President, has explained that the Land Back movement is not “trying to reclaim land from ownership in a Western colonial way of thinking about it.”

The Stockbridge Munsee people, she continued, are interested in reclaiming “ways of being, which were never based on money.” The meaning of ancestral land, she said, exceeds capitalist concepts of ownership; land back is about “reclamation of our kinship systems, our governance systems, our ceremony and spirituality, our language, our culture, and our food and medicinal systems,” all of which “are based on our relationships to the land.”

She emphasized that the movement is also about stewardship, and “making sure that we do whatever we can in a collaborative way to protect it for future generations.”

The Indigenous ways of land management and stewardship that will be used on Monument Mountain will benefit the environment, and is believed that such stewardship practices could also help combat global warming.

Patty Krawec wrote about Land Back in “Becoming Kin”: “We cannot talk about restoring our relationship to the land without talking about restoring the land to relationship with the people from whom it was taken. […] Unable to imagine any scenario other than what settler colonialism unleashed on us, people assume that Land Back means evictions, relocations, and elimination. […] But wholesale eviction was never what we intended. Remember, from the earliest treaties, we offered a way to live together in peace, friendship, and respect.”

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