Molly Miller, whose Munsee name is Wasalaangweew (Bright Star), is a clan mother among the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians. Historically, clan mothers were decision makers in the community. They represented the will of the people in selecting chiefs and other important decisions. As a clan mother and member of the Language and Culture Committee, today, Molly works to revitalize the Mohican language, culture, and community. Mohican language is taught in the Bowler School District two days a week, which is where the majority of the students from the community attend school. The tribe also holds language classes at the Mohican Family Center on the reservation.
Culture to Molly means trying to live the way of the seven teachings, with respect being the number one value. The others are honesty, love, bravery, humility, truth, and wisdom. Molly is focusing on wisdom, because she believes this is something she can offer the younger members in her community. She wants to teach them the good things of life and help them to make healthy and wise choices in their own lives. Molly sees her role as a clan mother as an important part of her identity and daily routine. Whenever she has the chance, she greets and hugs the youth in her community. This simple gesture, Molly believes, will help her community heal. In this way, she makes sure to hug or speak with any young person she encounters. Molly has also constructed a lodge in her yard for teaching, naming and talking circles.
When she completes her master’s degree in community counseling, Molly plans to combine this formal education with Native teachings to work as a counselor with Native people. She will use the Historical Trauma Theory, which holds that Native people are still deeply wounded by what happened to their ancestors, particularly the Indian boarding school experience of the elders. In the case of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans, the damage started in the early 1600’s when their community originally was in the present day New England area. European contact caused immense changes to their way of life, including dependence on trade goods and alcohol. Loss of land, language, and traditional ways were accompanied by the loss of many people to diseases and wars. Then Indian boarding schools finished the job by taking away traditional parenting skills and Native ways.
These boarding schools, often called Indian Schools, were actually intended to destroy Native cultures, identity, and languages. In order to assimilate children into European-American culture, they were forced to speak English, cut their hair, wear uniforms and convert to Christianity. Parents often refused to enroll their children and hid them from government agents, but by 1900 almost all Native children had been taken from their homes. Some were able to visit home on weekends or during the summer, but many remained in these boarding schools and did not see their parents or families for years, if at all.
The Mohican Nation is a sovereign nation with a reservation in northeastern Wisconsin; the Stockbridge-Munsee Community is located on this reservation, although enrolled tribal members live in other parts of Wisconsin, the United States and the world. During the early 1800’s, Mohicans including the Stockbridge band were forced to give up their lands in what is now New York and move many times, eventually settling in Wisconsin on land purchased from the Menominee and HoChunk. The Munsee band of Delaware Indians faced the same fate, and they joined to form Stockbridge-Munsee. Today they live on 22,139 acres in Shawano County.