Brothertown Nation celebrates history, future

By Sharon Roznik
Fond du Lac, Wisconsin (AP) October 2012

For close to a decade Loretta Metoxen, an Oneida Indian, struggled to gain back the tribal history of the Brothertown Nation.

And her work paid off.

The collection, including dozens of letters written by tribal members who served in the Civil War, were on display Sept. 15 at the grand opening of the Brothertown Indian Nation’s new community center in Fond du Lac.

The day was marked with ceremony and celebration and reaction to a recent federal ruling that declines to acknowledge the Brothertown Nation as an Indian tribe under federal law.

“Every day I learn more about the people in my community. One of the great things about my Senate office is how it is becoming a living understanding of each of my Senate districts,” said State Senator Jessica King, who attended the event.

Hundreds of tribal documents, including original court records, photographs and letters dating back to 1795 had been collected by a man named Otto Heller, a farmer, cheese maker and historian who lived in Stockbridge along the shores of Lake Winnebago.

As Loretta tells the story, when Otto Heller passed away the old farmstead along the lake went to his grandson and when his grandson passed away it was given to the grandson’s best friend, a man named Jerry.

One day, Jerry was rummaging through the old house, by then neglected and rundown, and he came across a trunk on the enclosed porch filled with yellowed papers.

“He looked inside and there was the history of the Brothertown tribe,” Loretta told The Reporter of Fond du Lac ( ). “And he decided he wanted a million dollars for it.”

She explains that although she is Oneida, and lives on the Oneida reservation serving as the tribal historian, its members are intertwined with the Brothertown and Stockbridge-Muncie nations – going back at least 200 years.

“We have shared histories and many of the same relatives,” she said.

The Brothertown tribe descends from seven separate tribes that lived in the Northeast. They came to Wisconsin, traveling on foot and by boat, in the early 1800s.

“They always say life is a journey. From New England to New York to Wisconsin and beyond we look forward to our future together as a proud nation,” said Richard Schadewald, chairman of the Brothertown Nation. He spoke to the large crowd gathered at the community center to celebrate the milestone event.

Loretta said about four years ago, after having all the items appraised, Jerry finally acquiesced and sold the historical collection for $75,000 to the Oneida Nation, because the Stockbridge Nation did not have the resources for such an acquisition.

Now the records are in safe keeping with the Oneidas and the Stockbridge tribe continues to make payments on the treasured collection that contains the original treaties between the U.S. Government and the “peace keepers” of the tribe. There is also a complete list of war veterans that dates from the Revolutionary War to World War II.

“We will be taking good care of it and putting it in a format that is accessible to researchers,” Loretta said.

Jill Watson from the University of Wisconsin Foundation presented the Brothertown Nation with the Samson Occom Legacy Award for encouraging Native Americans to pursue careers in medicine. Occom was a Native American Presbyterian preacher who organized Christians among various Mohegan and Pequot bands in New England and eastern Long Island into the Brothertown Indians.

Tribal Council member Faith Ottery said the government’s decision declining to acknowledge the Brothertown Indian Nation as an Indian tribe under federal law allows the tribe to finally move forward.

“This has been a 32-year process. Now our only course is to go through the political process and petition Congress, so that is where we are now,” she said.

The city of Fond du Lac has a long-standing connection with the Brothertown people, Loretta said. They have worked here for generations and served as civic officers in their own counties and at the state level.

“We are all connected. We are here and we are happy,” she said.