WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Heather Bruegel looks forward to the day she can bring the story of her people to the people who occupy her homeland.
Bruegl, the director of cultural affairs for the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians, met with the town's Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Equity Committee on Thursday to talk about how to take advantage of the new Stockbridge-Munsee extension office
on Spring Street.
"In a perfect, non-pandemic world, we'd be able to gather in Williamstown," Bruegl said from her office in Wisconsin. "Every year, we host a powwow here in Wisconsin, obviously we didn't have it last year. I wouldn't envision a powwow [in Williamstown], but maybe a one-day conference or something that talks about Stockbridge-Munsee history that shows you there are workshops with history and playing of the drums and things that are traditional to us and how our people would have lived.
"My hope was this year to host a history conference, but that can't happen because there's still a pandemic."
The committee asked Bruegl to talk about how Williamstown can engage with the Stockbridge-Munsee Band, particularly in light of the new office.
Bruegl said her two colleagues now stationed in Williamstown are focused on preserving Mohican heritage in the region and establishing a partnership with Williams College, but they also are interested in sharing the story of the people who called this region home before they were forcibly moved farther and farther west in the 18th and 19th centuries.
"There's something to be said for us being the ones brought in to share that narrative," Bruegl said. "You get a more accurate depiction of what it was like for the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican people. That's powerful. When I'm talking about Stockbridge-Munsee history, I'm talking about my literal ancestors.
"We definitely have resources available, and any of us, at any given moment, are available to put together presentations and talk about that history because, again, it's more powerful when we're the ones telling the story."
DIRE Committee Chair Mohammed Memfis suggested that Indigenous Peoples Day could provide an opportunity for a regular annual celebration of Mohican people with events throughout the long holiday weekend.
"As someone who has been a part of many Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations, you don't have to do something super extravagant to celebrate," she said. "As long as you are incorporating indigenous history, culture, language, you've got it.
"The whole idea is to celebrate the indigenous people that day instead of the people who committed genocide."
Thursday's virtual meeting allowed Bruegl to make one contact that could pay dividends for the community.
Randal Fippinger, the visiting artist producer and outreach manager at Williams College's ‘62 Center for Theatre and Dance and a frequent attendee at DIRE Committee meetings, used the opportunity to introduce himself.
"As soon as you are ready, I'm ready to figure out how to get [the Stockbridge-Munsee Band] on a stage or get it outside," Fippinger said. "Over the summer or in the spring, let's get together and chat."
Another college employee, DIRE Committee member Drea Finley, offered to join Bruegl in a relationship that moves beyond "allyship" to "co-conspiratorship."
Bruegl appreciated Finley's framing of that partnership and talked about how historically marginalized groups can lift up one another.
"I love that in the summer of 2020, there was a lot of social unrest because there were horrific events that happened," she said. "The indigenous community came out and made sure that we were standing in solidarity, but we were pushing forward the voices that mattered. And that was the voices of our Black brothers and sisters, in the same way that they came out for us when it came to Standing Rock and Keystone pipeline. They stood in solidarity with us and they pushed our voices forward.
"I think that's what needs to happen. There needs to be that good foundational allyship to then move to that co-conspiratorship. I love that word. I'm going to use that all the time."
The DIRE Committee met Thursday last week because its usual meeting night fell on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Memfis used the session, DIRE's first since Jan. 4, to reflect on the events of Jan. 6 and how they applied to the panel.
"We witnessed people storming the U.S. Capitol, wearing Nazi symbols, Auschwitz T-shirts, carrying Confederate flags," Memfis said. "I wanted to speak in affirmation of why this committee exists in relation to those events because people will always have you think that issues of racial equity and racial justice, issues of equity and inclusion are no longer relevant and that conversations around them are meaningless — that they are a waste of time.
"But I think seeing those specific symbols in our Capitol building really flips that on its head. And I think, if anything, we should take away from it … is that whatever the goal was in the minds of many of those people, they failed. In that moment, no matter how horrified people may have been, now many of us are in a position where we are looking forward, positively, to what will come for the future of this country, be it a week from now, a month from now, a year from now, two years from now."