Our opinion: The Berkshire Museum, Stockbridge-Munsee shows how to manage important pieces of history ethically | Editorials


When the Berkshire Museum returned a pair of moccasins and a wampum clutch to the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians, it was officially considered a “transfer of custody”. But it was also an acknowledgment of history, a deliberate drawing of the line between a proud but persecuted people and the place they still call home.

Berkshire Museum Returns Sachem Konkapot's Wampum Pouch and Moccasins to Stockbridge-Munsee Community

A pair of moccasins and a wampum clutch attributed to Mohican Sachem Popewannehah “John” Konkapot, have been returned to the Community Band of Mohican Indians of Stockbridge-Munsee by the Berkshire Museum.

That place is here in what is now called the Berkshires, even though the Stockbridge-Munsees are now located in Wisconsin after centuries of broken promises, brutal treatment and forced evictions at the hands of the American empire in expansion. The whole history of our country is not beautiful, but if we care about all this, we must take it into account. This obligation, often relegated to an intellectual dimension, also has a material dimension, as these 18th century artifacts remind us. This is particularly true for institutions such as museums. We commend the Berkshire Museum for fulfilling this obligation, and the Stockbridge-Munsee community for graciously partnering to make this happen.

We must recognize that, like these artifacts, much of our history stems from the original inhabitants of this land, even as the forces of colonialism have systematically attempted to erase and marginalize these peoples and their own connections to this history. We cannot change the past, nor afford to look away. Rather, history must inform our movement through the present. The museum’s return of these artifacts to the communal band of Mohican Indians of Stockbridge-Munsee is a small but necessary step on the road to true reconciliation.

It is a morally necessary trip that has been chartered by the tribe and its magnanimous collaborations with regional leaders, from the critical work of the Stockbridge-Munsee office at Williams College, and from the illuminating exhibit “Muh-he-con-ne- ok” to Stockbridge.

They presented an admirable model of how to assess the fullness of history in such a way as to give a voice to those historically silenced and to give Indigenous communities agency regarding how crucial elements of their culture and their history are covered. We hope his example will be followed in many more legitimate returns to come.


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