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Williamstown Panel Discussion Reflects on Area's Original Occupants

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Heather Bruegl of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians participates in Thursday's panel discussion.
 
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A 90-minute panel discussion is not going to undo hundreds of years of erasing and ignoring the presence of indigenous people.
 
But it can't hurt.
 
On Thursday evening, the Boston University School of Theology Faith and Ecological Justice Program hosted a talk that brought together town officials, a Williams College professor and Heather Bruegl, the director of cultural affairs for the Stockbridge-Munsee Community.
 
The Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians, currently headquartered on reservation land in Wisconsin, represents the people who lived for generations in and around what is now Williamstown. After fighting on the side of the colonists in the American Revolution, they were forcibly removed from their homeland -- first to New York, then to Indiana and finally to Shawano County in central Wisconsin, 1,100 miles from North Berkshire.
 
The webinar, hosted by BU student and Williamstown native Rachel Payne, celebrated the Stockbridge-Munsee Community's return to the area in form of an extension office on Spring Street and recognized how much work needs to be done.
 
"If you're talking about how to make amends or reparations for past atrocities, attending talks like this is a good start," Bruegl said. "Educating yourself on the history of the people on this land you inhabit. Reading a book by a native scholar, watching a native documentary and then going out and telling someone something you learned.
 
"That's huge. That goes a long way."
 
Andrew Art, who serves on the town's Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Equity Committee, joined Bruegl on the panel and talked about the things he did not learn about his hometown growing up.
 
"In this conversation, one thing we need to do is decolonize our own minds, to unlearn some of the facts we've been taught," Art said. "I'm afraid everyone comes to this a big brainwashed by false portraits of native culture.
 
"We moved to a neighborhood called Colonial Village, and I didn't realize that was established, originally, as a whites-only community. From there, we moved to a house on West Main Street, in sight of the 1753 House … but I didn't think about these people who were colonized and these monuments to the Colonial past."
 
Art said that in school, he learned only whitewashed, condescending views of native people, and in town, he rode his bicycle past the Haystack Monument on Williams' campus, a testament to either Christian missionary work or imperialism, depending on one's point of view.
 
Later, Art asked Bruegl for her own reaction to the word "colonial," which has been and continues to be celebrated in Williamstown and throughout New England.
 
Her answer was nuanced.
 
"I find myself in a very particular situation," Bruegl said. "Both my degrees are in U.S. history. One of my favorite time periods in history is the Colonial part of our history, the founding. I'm a nerd for the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. I find myself in a very weird position because I value that part of our history so much.
 
"At the same time, when you look at it, it was the birth of a nation and the demise of another. When you think about colonial history, I think about colonization, and colonization is the foundation of white supremacy -- the beginning of the end for a lot of people, for indigenous people and for the people who were enslaved and brought to our country.
 
"[Colonization] is a loaded word."
 
In her work as a historian for the Stockbridge-Munsee Community, Bruegl looks to preserve the history of the Mohican people and shine a light on that history in a white-dominated society that often seeks to ignore, suppress or distort the record.
 
"I'm privileged to work and oversee the largest archive of Mohican history in the world," she said. "Generations of people starting with Hendrick Aupaumut traveling back east, looking at archives, gathering our own history to tell our own story is so important.
 
"When we are in charge of our own history, what happens is you get the truth. The story of the Mohican people is something I'm even in awe of."
 
Having a foothold in Williamstown and a relationship with the college will help Bruegl's staff in its efforts to preserve that history and tell that story, she said.
 
She explained that the Stockbridge-Munsee Community wants to continue to build relationships with cultural and educational institutions throughout the Mohicans' homelands. And she wants to increase the community's presence -- starting with things seemingly as simple as signage and expanding to satellite cultural centers like the large cultural center the community is working build in Wisconsin.
 
"We want to create a presence out east," Breugl said. "We want people to know that we're not the 'last of the Mohicans.' James Fenimore Cooper got it wrong. … We are still here, and we are a strong and vibrant community, and we are fighting every day for our people, not just Stockbridge-Munsee but for indigenous people in general. We fight for our elders. We fight for our women and our children. And we fight for the future of our nation.
 
"Native people, indigenous people are resilient. No matter what you throw at us, we come back. We come back stronger. And we come back in more numbers. We don't take things lying down. We get right back up. I am so honored to have the blood of those ancestors running through me, and I am super excited that I can be part of this and bring a decolonized history to this community."
 
The full panel discussion, "Williamstown: Living on Mohican Homelands," was taped for replay on Williamstown's community television channel, WilliNet.

Tags: local history,   Native American,   Williams College,   

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Hike in County's COVID-19 Positivity Rate Drives Mount Greylock District to Remote Learning

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Two days after Mount Greylock regional middle-high school went fully remote, the entire PreK-12 district followed suit.
 
Mount Greylock Regional School District Superintendent Jason McCandless on Thursday notified families that Lanesborough Elementary and Williamstown Elementary will be going remote because of an increase in the county's COVID-19 positivity rate.
 
On Thursday, the commonwealth reported that the county's rate was 3.01 percent in the Weekly COVID-19 Public Health Report.
 
"This summer we negotiated for a 3 percent test positivity rate in Berkshire County as a component in our metrics to determine a move to remote learning with input from public health officials and knowledge that our staff, as well as our students, draw from more than Lanesborough and Williamstown," McCandless wrote. "Berkshire County was and is our best proxy for regional trends across our community."
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