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Technology builds tribal relationship

WAUKESHA, Wis. - Scattered across the continent, living in neighborhoods in rural and urban areas, the Mohican people now connect through a group called Mohican-7, a Wisconsin-based interactive Web site that allows dialogue and language to flow among the tribes.

"Most of the Mohican people do not live on the reservation, but are scattered across the country," said Wenona Gardner of the Stockbridge-Munsee band of Mohicans, founder of the group. "There are many Mohican people living in areas especially outside of Wisconsin who want to be connected to their tribe to learn its language, culture, arts, but never had a means to connect with other Mohicans on a regular basis."

Gardner, a writer and artist, said that technology can allow the average tribal member to build more positive relationships with their own tribal members that previously were inaccessible due to location. A group such as this allows people to pool their knowledge together on how to help each other accomplish personal and group goals of shared Mohican interests. In just a few months they already have a group of over 700 messages and growing membership of almost 90 members. Members talk about such things as language and genealogy.

"I believe the Mohican people's greatest resource is its own people," she said. "Our nation needed to be talking to each other more on a person-to-person basis."

Mohican-7 was established on the Internet in September 2003 to bring all Mohicans together regardless of where they live. One member was serving in the military during the Iraq war while still receiving messages via Mohican-7, from home.

The Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians descended from Mohicans and Munsee Delawares who migrated from New York, Pennsylvania and New England to Wisconsin in the 1820s and 1830s. Mohican, originally pronounced Muh-he-con-ne-ok means "People of The Waters That Are Never Still." They occupied the Upper Hudson River Valley in New York state until the years between 1783 and 1786 when European settlement removed them from their homeland.

"I hate the words 'The Last of the Mohicans' and the myth it has perpetuated that the Mohican tribe is dead and has been for a long time," said Gardner. "It is not very life affirming to grow up in a world that repeatedly tells you are suppose to be dead. I thought that a new idea needed to be introduced that projects life of the Mohican people not just today but in the future. What a thought, the Mohican tribe growing and thriving seven generations from now, like in the year 2300."

Gardner's interest in language began when she was in her teens and wanted to write a poem using her tribe's language.

"Language is alive. It's organic. It is born from the spirit and minds of the people. It is spoken from their breath," said Gardner. "In my eyes the words are like golden threads weaving us all together. Having the opportunity to use the words of my ancestors are like golden heirlooms."

Her interest led her to work on Schmick's Mahican Dictionary, edited by Carl Masthay in 1991. Looking for ways to use language in her day-to-day life, she formed the group and brought Masthay on board. Gardner is also turning Schmick's dictionary into electronic database to use in teaching Mohican-7 members from the American Philosophical Society.

"I created a language experiment called Keeper of the Word," she said. "Each member picks a single word to learn and dedicate to teaching others for their entire life. People can use their word in creative ways such as part of the signature of their email, on their profile or part of a poem."

This activity engages people in taking an interest in the language one word at a time and encourages sharing it with others at the same time. Language is meant to be used for community involvement, Gardner said.

Communication is daily and ongoing. This group is interactive in a way that lets people upload pictures of their families, files including music, the language database, polls, and the message archives. Questions, geneology requests, debates and birthday cards are shared by members ranging from children to elders. There is a designated chat time each week. Subjects include the Mo he con nuk Confederacy, Woodland Indians, Algonquin, Stockbridge-Munsee band of Mohicans, Hudson River Valley Housatonic, Wisconsin New York tribes, Mohican language, Mohican government, Mohican Constitution and Mohican arts.

"Using online groups to provide tribal members the opportunity to get to know each other, share events, knowledge, wisdom, articles, and personal insights is not just good for the individual tribal members but the tribe as a whole," said Gardner. "I believe creating this group helps the Mohican nation, and using the Internet in this way can help other Native nations work better towards achieving common goals through increasing communication."

What is nice about the Internet is that you can use it for free to create and can include tribal members who may not make it to the reservation often enough to talk about matters on a regular basis, Gardner said.

Gardner visited different Native language classes to observe how other Native nations were teaching their Native languages. She said that having the opportunity to interact with others is important in learning a second language.

"Factor in that of the 1,500 enrolled tribal members, 1,100 members live off reservation, something unique needs to be done to connect these people to each other," Gardner said. "The web I find is a good way to connect on this language topic. There are a lot of articles on what Native people are doing to resurrect their languages. I study them and send the most intriguing ones to the group."

One of the consistent compliments she said she receives about this group is that it's much needed.

"I agree," she said. "We need to see our tribe as more than just a reservation and include all of its members who live off reservation."

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