Shirley L. 'Misqua Wahan' Mills: a lifelong activist for Indigenous justice and a strong Native spiritualist
Shirley L. “Misqua Wahan” Mills, 90, went peacefully to her final rest on Friday, October 4 surrounded by her loving family.
Misqua Wahan, meaning Red Dove, was given the pipe as a recognition of her strength and quiet leadership, during the Sun Dance Ceremonies, in which she participated at Crow Dog’s Paradise in Rosebud, South Dakota; as a Sundancer and Pipe Carrier, she was a beloved and honored elder of the Native American communities in National and International traditional circles. In or around 1957 Shirley was adopted by the Mashpee Wampanoag people, in a ceremony led by the Reverend Leroy Perry, Gay Head Wampanoag. She will be sadly missed and fondly remembered for her wisdom, kindness and smiling eyes.
Born in New York the daughter of Elsie Post Moore and Daniel L. Moore of the Dine’ people, Shirley was raised in Acushnet and was a 1946 graduate of New Bedford High School.
From an early age she came to appreciate the importance of connecting intertribal communities engaging with the small but vital circle of Wampanoag and other Native families in the New England area. Among them she met and married her first husband Earl H. Mills Sr. The couple established the family homestead in Falmouth where they raised four children. The family traveled across the Cape, to Narragansett and Indian Island, engaging with tribal leaders; and working as board members to the Tales of Cape Cod and other non-profit organizations, and working to support local school activities and athletic events.
From 1946 to the 1950s Shirley worked in the personnel department at Camp Edwards as a secretary. Much later, in the mid 1960’s she took a secretarial position closer to home working in the administration office of the Falmouth School Superintendent, then transferring to the Mullen Hall School where she was the administrative assistant to Principal Emma Barrows. In the 1980s she began working at the Boston Indian Council in Jamaica Plain as an employment specialist where she was of immeasurable assistance to transplanted and displaced Native people needing work in the city.
Guided by Indigenous spiritual and cultural beliefs Shirley was committed to raising her children in the “Indian way.” She and her husband were instrumental in revitalizing the traditional powwow in the Mashpee Wampanoag community in the 1950s where Earl was named Chief and their children participated in a dance to honor the four directions. In the 1960s when the Parish House and Old Indian Meetinghouse in Mashpee were in disrepair Shirley, with her husband Earl organized fundraisers including an annual buffet dinner held at the old Samuel G. Davis School to raise money to restore the landmark structures. Shirley was also a member of the women’s auxiliary of the Mashpee VFW, Falmouth Business and Professional Women, and the Falmouth Theater Guild where she did make up for many shows including The King and I and South Pacific.
When the “moral rearmament” movement occurred, in the late 1960s Shirley travelled with the Wampanoag Pow Wow Princess Patricia Weeden to Mackinaw Island, Michigan, to meet with Ojibwa tribal leaders, as part of Up with People. When the group comprised of non-sectarian singers dedicated to inspiring common good among people regardless of politics, race, ethnicity or religion came to Cape Cod Shirley and her family hosted members of the Up with People cast in their Falmouth home.
Recognizing a need for Native leadership and activism in the region Shirley was among the founding members of the Federated Eastern Indian League in the 1960s, was a founding member of the United American Indians of New England in 1970, and the New England Chapter of the American Indian Movement in 1974 often hosting group meetings in her Falmouth home.
After she and her husband divorced Shirley became active in the newly established Boston Indian Council in Jamaica Plain where she met her lifelong partner John “Sammy” Sapiel. The couple lived for a time among Sammy’s Penobscot people on the reclusive Indian Island reservation in Maine but were outspoken activists for Indigenous issues, concerns and justice, often out front of demonstrations and protests. They travelled to Libya as part of the International Treaty Council delegation, an organization of Indigenous peoples working on behalf of Sovereignty, Self Determination and the recognition and protection of Indigenous rights, Treaties, Traditional Cultures, and Sacred Lands.
Shirley will be remembered by her children and grandchildren as providing comfort and “always being there.” She is survived by her former husband Earl H. Mills, Sr. “Chief Flying Eagle,” of Mashpee; her two daughters, Roxanne Mills Brown of Falmouth and Shelley Pocknett and husband David of Mashpee; two sons, Earl H. “Chiefie” Mills Jr. and Robert F. Mills and his wife Rachel Perry Mills of Mashpee; six granddaughters, Fawn A. Brown and husband Dan Bennett of Austin Texas, Madas Strickland and husband Christopher of Clinton, North Carolina, Mishanagqus Smith and husband Brandon of Charlestown, Ikwe M. Mills of Weymouth, Billie R. D. Mills of Falmouth, and Alyssa Perry, Boston; nine grandsons, Nebasett “Neb” Brown of Falmouth, Wamsutta “Dude” Brown of Sparks Nevada, David Pocknett, Jr. and wife Ellen of Cranston, Rhode Island, Damien Pocknett of Deppford, New Jersey, CheeNulKa Pocknett of Mashpee, Wampsikuk P. Mills and wife Courtney of Mashpee, Jason D. Lang and wife Denise of Hanover, Attaquin J. Mills and fiancé Chelsea Karvonen of Davenport Fl, and Nathan W. Mills of Mashpee; as well as 19 great-grandchildren, many nieces and nephews, and many dear friends.
Shirley was predeceased by her parents, beloved partner Sam, son-in-law James C. Brown, sisters Juanita Jones and Cordelia Bell, and her brother Daniel Moore. The family extends their appreciation to the staff at Falmouth Hospital and the Cape Cod Healthcare VNA Hospice. Donations to the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) may be made in Shirley’s name.
Services will be held at the Old Indian Meeting House in Mashpee on November 9 from 11:00 – 12:30 with a reception to follow.