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Land return enables Nipmuc celebration

OXFORD, Mass. - For millennia, Nipmuc people observed the summer solstice from KekamowadChaug, a place in what is today Oxford, which means ''mountain where the earth trembles.''

''It is a very sacred site to our people,'' said Larry Spotted Crow Mann, of the Historical Nipmuc Tribe.

After King Phillip's War in the late 1600s, KekamowadChaug was taken over by French settlers. A fort was built to defend against Nipmuc attacks.

Now, however, for the first time in more than 300 years,

Nipmuc people are again observing the solstice from what is today known as Huguenot Hill.

Seven acres of land there was recently returned to the Nipmuc by a descendant of one of the settlers.

The present-day Nipmuc ''reservation'' is famous for its size: It is only four and one-half acres, the smallest in North America, as well as one of its first. The tribe had won federal recognition in 2002, only to have that decision overturned by the Bush administration. Land claims and appeals are ongoing.

Spotted Crow had formed a Unity Conference with his cousin, David White Tall Pine, following the disarray after the overturned decision. Tall Pine is on the Chaubunagungamaug Band of Nipmucs Tribal Council.

By the 20th century, KekamowadChaug was owned by LaMountain Bros. Inc.

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''One of the brothers, Richard LaMountain, was killed not long ago in a motorcycle accident. The other brother, Jim, had a dream shortly after Richard died,'' Spotted Crow said.

In the profoundly life-altering event for Jim, Richard conveyed in the dream that their land needed to be given back to ''the Indians,'' that the place was special to them. Not aware of the local Nipmuc bands, it took an intense search on Jim's part before he located Tall Pine, who as a result of the Unity Conference was then able to accept the land transfer for all the bands.

''The land is Nipmuc homeland,'' Spotted Crow said. ''This is like a restoration for us. It is just amazing how this is happening.''

The land will be owned by the Confederacy of Nipmuc Tribes.

Spotted Crow said that smoke signals were sent from KekamowadChaug and that it was a ceremonial gathering place. Now overlooking Interstate 395, one can still imagine the people dancing there, ''dancing right into the sky.''

Spotted Crow said, ''This will be a place of unity for all the Nipmuc people. It is good for our people, for there have been so many human rights violations; we are actually still suffering.

''We are looking forward to trade, ceremonies and renewals. LaMountain will be welcomed to the Lodge; the town of Oxford will be invited to more fully understand Nipmuc history, grievances and cultural contributions.''

''There are many issues facing our people. This land ceremony and blessing is a reminder of what it is all about: our connection to Mother Earth. We have never given up our rights to this land and now, with the help of people like Jim LaMountain, hopefully the state will come up with a just remedy for our rightful claim. We as human beings can all move forward and together as one, as our ancestors believed.

''America started here. It was at the expense of our people's lives, land and traditional ways ... some of the worst human rights violations in history.''

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