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History of Indigenous people adds to county’s heritage

Shawn Stevens (l) and Molly O’Grady performing at Hudson’s celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day 2022 at Riverfront Park. Photo by Jeanette Wolfberg

HUDSON—The story of people who lived on the American continent before European settlers came “is part of history,” and anyone who does not know this history is missing something, said Heather Bruegl. A historian, indigenous consultant and lecturer who lives in Hudson.

History, she said, “should not leave out anyone.” Adding the Indigenous peoples—also called Native Americans and American Indians—to basic American history “creates a more inclusive story.”

The City of Hudson has hired Ms. Bruegl to coordinate programming for Indigenous Peoples’ Day (observed October 10 this year, which is also Columbus Day) and Native American Heritage Month (November).

October 10 there was an event at the City of Hudson’s riverfront park. It consisted mainly of Shawn Stevens (Red Eagle), a multicultural musician, craftsman and spiritual guide in the Stockbridge-Munsee band of Mohicans, telling Mohican history.

The Stockbridge-Munsee are descendants of the Mohicans who lived in the Hudson Valley—including what is now the City of Hudson—and western Massachusetts when the Europeans came. Ms. Bruegl also has Stockbridge-Munsee forebears.

For November, Ms. Bruegl said, she hopes to hold several events, as well as highlighting certain individual Indigenous artists on social media posts.

“I’m really excited that Hudson is celebrating the people who were here before Hudson was even a concept,” she said. “If more towns, cities, and states did that, we would know more about the first people who lived here.”

Ms. Bruegl speaks at libraries, colleges, universities, law schools, and museums throughout the United States. She has also spoken at the Tate Museum in London.

One of her current topics of interest is the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA). People will testify for and against it before the Supreme Court November 9. The ICWA specifies that for adopting an Indigenous child, preference is given to Indigenous parents. But a white couple challenged this policy, claiming it discriminates against them. Ms. Bruegl supports the policy.

Ms. Bruegl has also spoken about missing and murdered Indigenous women and seeks to promote Indigenous-owned businesses.

The Indigenous tribes who lived in Columbia County included the Mohican and the Lenape, Ms. Bruegl said. (Mohicans are different from the Mohegans, who lived farther east, she noted.)

Ms. Bruegl was born in Texas and raised in the Midwest. Her ancestors on one side included both Stockbridge-Munsee and Oneida, and she is a citizen of the Oneida Nation in Wisconsin. She has an MA in American History from Madonna University in Michigan.

‘Unfortunately, in this land, there’s a lot of blood and tears that need to be healed.’

Shawn Stevens (Red Eagle),

telling history of Stockbridge-Munsee Mohicans

Since May she has lived in Hudson, because, “this is the homeland of my ancestors. I came and wanted to help make a difference.”

The October 10 event started with a prayer performed by Mr. Stevens, followed by opening remarks by him, Ms. Bruegl and Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson.

Mr. Stevens then spent the bulk of the event summarizing the history of the Mohicans. The word Mohican comes from words meaning “great waters that are never still and go both ways.”

They once lived in pockets of villages, from the base of Lake Champlain to the tip of Manhattan. They lived “for thousands of years” before Europeans came. The Europeans brought trading opportunities and new material goods but also: smallpox, which wiped out 90% (Mr. Steven’s estimate) of the Mohicans so quickly that whole villages died before even seeing a European; wars, where tribes traditionally friendly to each other were recruited by opposite European sides; and land takeovers by whites, despite the fact that the Mohicans had fought for the colonists in the Revolutionary War. The remnant Mohicans consolidated in fewer locations. Many from what is now Columbia County settled in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. For about 15 years a white missionary named John Seargeant protected them, but he died young, and the land-taking resumed. The Stockbridge group then moved several times across New York and Indiana, finally settling in Wisconsin, where they have been since the late 1850s. But children were forced into mission schools from ages four to 18. This “destroyed the Mohican way of life” and caused “intergenerational trauma.” Until 1978, it was illegal for Native Americans “to practice their spirituality.”

Mr. Stevens said he tells this story not to make non-Natives feel bad or responsible but so that the story will not be repeated.

“We’re all connected to the Earth,” he said. “Unfortunately, in this land, there’s a lot of blood and tears that need to be healed.” With pollution and global warming, “we make ourselves sick, and we make the Earth sick.”

“When I finally came here, I was so disappointed that the river that gave life to our ancestors is so contaminated. We all want a safe and healthy place for our offspring. The Earth will heal itself, but we might not be around,” he said.

Next came a song performed by Mr. Stevens and Molly O’Grady. In response to an audience member question, Mr. Stevens explained his regalia, including a necklace which can be removed only by cutting it off. He has worn it for years. “It reminds me of my duty.”

In closing, Ms. Bruegl thanked the Mayor and the city for making the event possible. “We are still here,” Mr. Stevens. “There is no last of the Mohicans. There are thousands of us!”

“And, if you can do me one favor,” he added, “it’s the Mohican River.”

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