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Brothertown Indians’ recognition efforts take step forward

FOND DU LAC, Wis. – On June 23, the Brothertown Indians of Wisconsin knew their effort to receive federal recognition had moved another step closer when a research team was assigned to their petition.

“It has taken us 25 years to get this far, so I have no idea when we will hear from them. It’s not an easy process but it’s the waiting that’s difficult. In 1978 we submitted our first letter of intent. So, most of those elders have passed on. They were totally involved. They should have been here to see the results,” said Caroline K. Andler, tribal historian and genealogist.

Former Chairwoman June Ezold, one of the driving forces behind the petition, passed away in January 2006.

For the Brothertown, the process is serving as an educational as well as a legal vehicle.

Before the General Allotment Act of 1887 and the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, the tribe had requested and was granted U.S. citizenship in 1839. The patents in fee simple that they received through this legislation negated further removal to Kansas, since their land was now taken out of trust. What the legislation did not do, however, was extinguish their rights as a nation. The tribe was never terminated.

“When they requested citizenship, they knew what they were doing,” Andler said, noting that treatment by the federal government has shown its confusion over the status of the tribe.

The Brothertown continued to receive annuities from treaties made while it was in New York before the fund dwindled without adequate explanation, and members continue to receive educational and health benefits.

What the current petition will do, according to Andler, is afford those benefits to Brothertown members who do not reside in the state of Wisconsin.

The petition is not only an important vehicle for the tribe to be recognized officially by other North American Indian nations and but it is contributing to building cultural and historical information for the descendants of the Brothertown Indian Tribe.

“We want our children and grandchildren to know who they are.”

Accurate Brothertown history is often thwarted by misinformation or omission, perpetuated by the Internet and, lately, by the local press.

“As citizens, the Brothertown were no longer considered a tribe by the U.S. government,” wrote Maggie McCullough, columnist and member of the Gannett-owned Fond du Lac Reporter editorial board, Sept. 18.

“The Brothertown never stopped regretting their tradeoff of citizenship for tribal identity.”

“We never traded citizenship for tribal identity. We took allotments so we could not be moved,” Andler said.

The Brothertown Indians of Wisconsin are composed of Niantic, Mohegan, Montauk, Pequot, Narragansett and Tunxis people of the New England coastal region.

For more than 25 years, they have been building a fund with no support from the mainstream community to house their cultural artifacts and history and to expand their three-quarter-acre reservation. Marian University, a local college, did give them library space to temporarily house some of their collection.

They carry a 230-year history that includes the peacemaker courts, the diversion of Samson Occom’s fundraising proceeds to start Dartmouth College, a long history of legal instigations against European encroachments, protection by the Quakers and techniques for survival.

The Brothertown received protection from the New York Oneida in 1773.