Greetings, all my relatives
In honor of First Nations Day, and to begin the work of truth and reconciliation, we want to acknowledge that our school is on the traditional territory of the Muhhekunneuw (Mohican) Nation, the people of the flowing waters, whose territory originally ranged west beyond the Muhheakantuck (Hudson) River, the “river of tides,” from which they take their name.
In their own language, the Mohican referred to themselves as the “Muhhekunneuw” (ma-hee-kan-ok), “people of the great river.” This name was difficult for the Dutch to pronounce, so they settled on “Manhigan,” the Mohican word for wolf and the name of one their most important clans. Later, the English altered this to the now-familiar Mahican or Mohican.
Words can divide or multiply, add or subtract. So it’s important to note that Henry Hudson didn’t “discover” the Hudson River; it was the site of a thriving civilization, whose people had adapted to live as part of the land, waters and wildlife of the River Valley skillfully and with great success for 10,000 years. The Muhhekunneuw had 40 important council fires, up along what is now the Hudson Valley as far north as Lake Champlain and Lake George; their winter home was on the banks of the Housatonic River. These were the people who met the Half Moon, as it followed the tidal river on its second journey to find a shorter route to China, greeted Henry Hudson and his sailors, and taught them all they knew about living in this plentiful land.
Donald Shriver, president emeritus of the Union Theological Seminary in New York, and Stephen Kent Comer, last lineal survivor of the Mohican Nation in the vicinity of Columbia County, added a historical marker alongside the already-existing History of Columbia County marker at the northernmost overlook of the Taconic Parkway. The original marker tells of Hudson’s arrival in 1609, with no mention of the Mohicans. Comer noted, “When I came to this area thirty years ago, I was amazed to find virtually nothing about my people in their native land. It was as though we were a ghost people.”
One of the most important ways we can acknowledge the elders and ancestors who cared for this beautiful land is to acknowledge their presence by speaking of them in the present tense. The remnants of the mighty Mohican nation are alive and well and living in Wisconsin. Their demise (in The Last of the Mohicans) has been greatly exaggerated.
We can learn more about how the Mohican Nation came to be known as “Stockbridge Indians”and why they live in Wisconsin today.
What sacred land do we stand on? We can honor Indian nations by respectfully acknowledging ancestral lands.
We can honor ancestors and elders by caring for this land with the same reverence, tenderness and gratitude. For example, we thank the plant before we take a leaf for food or medicine.
We can honor tribal rights by referring to indigenous people in this country as American Indians. Since all the treaties the U.S. made were with “American Indians,” using this term upholds Indian rights and dignity as sovereign nations.
We can read books with our children by and about American Indians. We can savor the work of the Poet Laureate of the United States, Joy Harjo, the first American Indian poet appointed to that role.
We can remember the words of an Indian grandmother to her grandchild: “I am nothing without you,” and acknowledge on a daily basis that our survival depends on respecting our connectedness rather than living in our differences, so the choices we make will be in the best interest of many people.