“Thinking Indigenously is respecting the earth:” Berkshire County acknowledges Indigenous People’s Day

This weekend, a series of events in the Berkshires will mark Monday’s Indigenous Peoples Day. Fifteen tribal nations will be represented at events throughout the county ranging from speeches, flute and drum performances, panels, and more, all culminating in a ceremonial walk through Great Barrington Monday morning. Shawn Stevens is a cultural educator from the Stockbridge Munsee Band of Mohicans. The community once called Western Massachusetts home, but were driven out of the land by white colonizers over the 18th and 19th centuries before ending up in Wisconsin. Stevens spoke with WAMC about returning to his ancestral homeland, and why he’s keeping the earth at the center of the commemoration.

STEVENS: It feels like a pilgrimage, really. And I know many of our people since we left have made trips back here for a long, long time. You know, especially in the earlier days, that was kind of, I guess, maybe a bittersweet thing. But later, later on in my time here, it’s nothing less than magical, feeling the spirits and knowing this is where the last piece of our God-given land, actually, for our tribe, my ancestors, have lived. And it’s just beautiful. And coming out, it’s not only just the connection, the cultural connection of my tribe, but just something was in the land itself out here is just so welcoming and so powerful.

WAMC: On Monday, there will be a ceremonial walk through Great Barrington bringing the songs and the dance and the music of Native American communities through Great Barrington, through this place that was once their homeland. What do you think that’s going to feel like to see that presence on the streets of Great Barrington on Monday?

It’s going to be great. We did it last year, we went down through, the cops have blocked off the streets to let us through. People were honking their horns and waving their hands just in appreciation. It’s an amazing feeling, because especially those of us who know our history from the tribe, when our tribe was meant to leave here, we weren’t wanted here anymore. And now, with the times that I come back here and do presentations and such, there’s such an open arms type of welcoming. People just, they want us to come back so much, they want to know more about us. It’s amazing. It’s an amazing feeling. I mean, I can give you words, but words really can’t describe deep down, you know, and I think not only does it resonate with me, but resonates with the spirits of our ancestors as well that we’re so welcome here, and such empathy and love that people are doing whatever they can to learn about us, because our history was written away by James Fenimore Cooper’s ‘Last of the Mohicans,’ book so many years, hundreds of years ago, and a lot of people thought that we didn’t exist anymore, but we do exist. And of course, our story isn’t the same as his book, his book is fiction, but to really reclaim, to come back to our homelands, our ancestral homelands, and to start being taught in the schools now, our history being taught in the schools, and what we, how our culture was, past and present- It’s amazing. It’s a good time to live. I feel so blessed that I’m a part of this. And somehow, you know, the spirits that guide me, that chose me to come, to be one of the front runners on my people and keep coming back here to share- It’s amazing.

Do you feel like there’s a message that you want the wider community to understand for this year’s acknowledgement of Indigenous Peoples Day?

A lot of people, when they think of Indigenous people, they think of Native American people, or the original people from a certain part of the land. But it’s more so of, indigenous peoples, they not only, you know, remembering the people whose land that you currently live on, but also looking back in your own ancestry, when you had your Indigenous ancestors, and the way that they thought, they lived, and how they’re connected to the land. Because to be indigenous, basically, that mindset is understanding your connection, where you come from, and we all come from Mother Earth. If we all sat in a room and pointed in directions where our ancestors come from, we point in all kinds of different directions, but you put us on, like, a rocket ship, and send us a million miles away from the Earth, we all point in one direction. We all come from here. And that Indigenous connection and understanding our connection with not only all of humankind, but with the animals and the plants, all of earth, everything. We’re all connected and intertwined, and even modern science will attest to that now. And so then the thinking Indigenously, you know, is respecting the earth and that it is a life form, that we’re a part of it, what we do to the earth we do to ourselves, and with us Native American Indigenous people, we hold on to these teachings that we are stewards of the earth. And even though a long time ago, people didn’t really want to hear what we had to say, that one day they would come and they would want to hear what we have to say, because the Earth, with global warming and pollution, the Earth has become very sick. And the sicker the Earth gets, that spells doom and trouble for us. And for me, I come and I share and especially on Indigenous Peoples Day, I say, yo, thank you for recognizing the original people of this land, but also having that Indigenous mindset of your own and being connected to the Earth. Because even though my people don’t live here anymore, there’s a people that live here now, and that they have this connection to the land, and not to forget that. We’re not so much as individuals or separate beings from this place, this Earth, this Mother Earth. We’re all from Earth, we are Earth, you know, and so we need to start treating the Earth much more better, thinking in Indigenous mindset. That doesn’t mean going back and living in huts and stuff like that, but it just means respecting the Earth, getting more about control on pollution, understanding and recognizing global warming, and understanding a lot of these new ways and cleaner ways of helping the Earth, not destroying it. So, yeah Indigenous Peoples Day for me and my message, I carry a much larger message than just remembering Native American people. It’s also reminding other people that they descend from Ingenious people long ago, and we all need to get back to that Indigenous mindset to help the Earth.

Here are some of the events celebrating Indigenous People’s Day in Berkshire County:
Great Barrington, Saturday
Pittsfield, Sunday
Stockbridge, Sunday and Monday
Great Barrington, Monday

Related Posts