Tribal Tribulations (Part 1)

The call came while Lydia flipped her grandchildren’s pancakes. Lydia glanced at the call ID and frowned as she looked at her treaty husband’s number. “Hello?”, “Oh, it’s you, Oakes. How are you?” She continued the frown while listening and plating the kids’ supper. “Uh huh, well, what makes you think I can do anything about it? Can you hold on, please?” Lydia called her grandbabies to eat and poured their drinks and maple syrup, taking her time returning to the phone. “I’m sorry, Oakes. I just don’t get why you’re calling me.” Lydia listened once more, rolled her eyes and replied “Ok, Ok. I’ll take a drive out tomorrow. See you then.”

Oakes Gardner and Lydia Printer were married a few months earlier, as the finalization of a treaty between Oakes’ federally-recognized tribe and Lydia’s state-recognized one. Oakes’ tribe wanted to open a casino but had no land. Lydia’s tribe had a 5000-acre forest but neither the money nor the authority to do much with it. The treaty enabled both groups to develop economic opportunities for their people. The Elders of both communities thought it best to seal the deal with a marriage between the tribes, to both mimic and honor what the ancestors would have done. To lessen any potential complications in the modern world, it was decided that the treaty bride and groom would be middle-aged, divorced or widowed, with grown children and self-supporting. Lydia and Oakes, both twice married and divorced, fit the criteria.

Lydia rose early the next day, fed the cats, left a message for her co-worker at the tribe’s cultural center and climbed into her jeep. During the two hour ride to Oakes’ house, she considered what he had told her the night before. Papers were missing from his tribe’s archive and not just any papers. Missing were detailed financial records from a previous administration. The papers had been ordered sealed to protect the tribe from unpleasant repercussions. Over the years, Lydia had developed a reputation for unraveling unusual situations. Oakes had helped her recently when a valuable artifact went missing from her tribe’s museum and now apparently thought they were some sort of detective team.

Nearly two hours to the minute, Lydia cursed as she realized she was lost. She had been to Oakes’ house once before and wrongly thought she remembered the way. The road to the tribal office was just ahead so she turned there instead and pulled into the parking lot of the tribe’s new health clinic. Oakes picked up on the first ring, “Where are you?” “At the health clinic since I forgot the way to your house.” Time skipped a beat or two before Oakes answered that he was on his way and hung up. Less than 15 minutes later, he pulled into the lot next to Lydia. He hopped out of the car and looked at her expectantly. Ignoring his look, she sighed “Ok, so, what’s going on and how can I help?”

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Hassanamisco Reservation on the National Register of Historic Places!

On September 6, 2011, the National Register of Historic Places added the Hassanamisco Reservation to its list of national treasures. Known as Hassanamesit, the under 4 acre reservation serves as the cultural and spiritual center of the Nipmuc Nation, a state-recognized tribe in Massachusetts. Located on the reservation is the Cisco Homestead, which for two centuries served as home to Nipmuc tribal leaders and now houses the Hassanamisco Indian Museum.

Nipmucs occupied Hassanamesit since before recorded time. In the mid 1600s, missionary John Eliot established a “Praying Plantation or Town” in Hassanamesit in an effort to “Christianize” the native population. Metacom’s Rebellion (June 1675 – August 1676) brought an end to the praying town era, and in 1728, English settlers divided Hassanamesit into lots reserving some parcels for the Nipmuc families still living there.

Hassanamesit Allotments - 1728

 The current reservation is all that remains of the Moses Printer allotment. A wood frame house was built in 1801 for Moses’ great-granddaughter, Lucy Gimby. Lucy’s granddaughter, Sarah Arnold Cisco, became the Nipmuc tribal leader in the mid 1850s and the house became known as the Cisco Homestead. In 1962, it became the Hassanamisco Indian Museum although the family still occupied the addition in the back of the building. The last member of the Cisco family to occupy the Homestead was Shelleigh Wilcox who moved from the reservation in 2006.

Cisco Homestead

Dr. D. Rae Gould, the Nipmuc Nation’s Tribal Historic Preservation Officer (THPO), led the effort to place the reservation on the list. “This good news will increase funding opportunities for our efforts to raise approximately $300,000 for the preservation of the Homestead.” The reservation is designated as a Traditional Cultural Property “associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our (Nation’s) history.” Funding to aid in the nomination process was provided by Preservation Massachusetts.

Hassanamesit has meaning for all Nipmucs as it is the only land in Massachusetts that has never been occupied by non-Natives. And the Homestead is the oldest structure in southern New England to be continuously occupied by Native people. Natick Nipmuc Sachem, Mary Anne Hendricks commented “The Hassanamisco Reservation is not only a sacred place to Nipmuks but has been finally recognized as a place in history for all to appreciate.”

Thanks to all who assisted and supported this journey, in particular Chief Natachaman of the Nipmuc Nation and the Hassanamisco Band of Nipmuc Indians.

Many thanks and an abundance of gratitude to our ancestors who kept this land intact for our generations and those to come.