Reason #1: We Are a People of Hope
Last weekend, we celebrated the birthday of the United States (July 4th). In less than 4 months, the Brotherton will celebrate the birthday of our Indian nation, Eeyawquittoowauconnuck / Brothertown (November 7th). Hope is one of the seeds that planted our nation and continues to re-sprout seasonally.
Our ancestors were motivated by many things when they gathered in Mohegan on March 13, 1773 to discuss removal to new lands. Well-known events, such as the Mason Land controversy, the re-appropriation of Indian funds collected during Samson Occom’s missionary trip to Britain, and the execution of Moses Paul stand out as obvious catalysts alongside the continual racism and prejudicial treatment that Native Americans were accustomed to receiving. Yet, rather than accept the status quo or take up arms, 7 Native communities gathered to envision a new settlement where they and their children would be free from land encroachment and from European prejudices and negative influences. This would be a place where they could be free to live and govern themselves; a place where they could hunt and plant and raise themselves up from the poverty that had been thrust upon them.
Hope was alive and well when Samson Occom, Joseph Johnson, Elijah Wampy, Roger Wauby, John Tuhi, Andrew Simon, the Waukeet, Hammer, Coyhis, Dick, Niles, and Fowler families, and the rest of our ancestors gathered in Mohegan that winter day. Hope saw us through again when we were burned out of our lands in upstate NY; when the land promised us in Indiana fell through; when we made the arduous journey to relocate to Green Bay, Wisconsin; and, in the early 1830’s, when we finally settled off the coast of Lake Winnebago. We still had hope when the government decided we must move further west just a few short years later. We asked to become US citizens in 1839 in the hopes that this would prevent another removal. It did prevent it for the moment. Instead, we lost much of that land lot by lot to the tax man.
We also lost many of our men when they took up arms against slavery in the Civil War; we lost our children to the promise of a better life elsewhere, beyond the pock-marked borders of a reservation stagnant with the suffocating smell of prejudice. We lost our native language; buried in the ground with each passing elder; elders who were silent long before death in the hopes that their children would not be marked with the scarlet letter of “Indian”. We lost so much, yet the seed of hope that was planted by our ancestors, will only lie dormant for a time. Each season, it springs forth again and the Brotherton remember. We dream of and work toward a better life. A life where we all live in peace and equity as brothers the way the Creator meant for us to live-respecting the water, land, air, and all of creation; sharing what we have and who we are, and loving and helping each other because we are all children equally valuable in the eyes of the Creator.
Tawbut ni, Ancestors, for the seed and example of hope which you planted.