The First Brothertown Powwow

An Event Review by Larry P. Madden brother town pow-wow

April 1st ushered in a new era in Brothertown Indian history. Eeyamquitoowauconnuck, as the Brothertown are known in their language, have held a presence in the Fond du Lac area of Wisconsin since the 1830s, but this year marked their first spring celebration powwow in the modern times. This celebration of survival was not only a festival of winter survival for all of us, but a true metaphor for the Brothertown themselves.

When the Brothertown arrived in Fond du Lac, the city was a trade stop that was once slated to be the state capital. It was thriving with activity and even held a special place as the northern Underground Railroad hub from which people could flee through Indian country to freedom in Canada. Yet, the Brothertown were there to live under the Menominee Nation’s Apenon Akhi (sit upon my land) policy that New York Indians such as the Oneida, Stockbridge-Munsee, and the St. Regis Mohawk would come to enjoy.

Then a government agent named Stambaugh manipulated the Menominee into what would lead to a land grab of the acreage from Washington Isle to what’s now Chicago. By the time it was done, the Stockbridge-Munsee and the Brothertown were threatened with removal to Kansas, the Menominee to Minnesota, and the St. Regis went back to the east. In the resulting melee, the Brothertown agreed to become United States citizens in order to stay in their new home. This resulted in the government allotting some of their land to former tribal members and redistributing the rest to non-Natives. For all federal purposes, the Brothertown tribe was no more. Of course, tribal pride is a concept much older than United States’ policy decisions and so the tribe endures today—albeit as a federally unrecognized entity.

One can find proof of their tenacity in the fact that the first Brothertown powwow was a great success. The Grand Entry started the day off with the good sounds of Gee tah saa from the Mohican Reserve in Bowler, Wisconsin. Later, they combined forces with the powerful Medicine Bear and the youthful, full-hearted sounds of Puzzle Hill, also a Mohican drum, and so those in attendance enjoyed an entertaining day and evening.

Beyond the music, the Brothertown powwow committee had their bases covered and created a space where a mixed company of powwow veterans and interested spectators mingled and exchanged pleasantries and stories. Sure, there were some nervous moments for those of us who lent a hand, but we held fast to the knowledge that we were part of something bigger than ourselves.

The Brothertown Nation’s survival is proof that even a lack of federal acknowledgement can’t limit one’s Native pride. That pride is a concept older than America.

Larry P. Madden (Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Wisconsin) was born and raised in the Sturgeon Bay area. A recent graduate of CMN, he enjoys the Powwow trail and strives to maintain balance on the red road.