Every book is a journey, and this particular journey began with a long drive west along Route 2 to Deerfield, Massachusetts. Russell Peters, who lived just outside Boston, had agreed to pick me up near my home in Groton, Massachusetts. Towns like Groton and Lancaster had been the far edge of Puritan settlement in the 1670s and, consequently, had been abandoned during King Philip’s War. Everything from the Nashua River west to Deerfield and the string of English settlements along the Connecticut River Valley would have been the uncontested territory of its First People, just as it had already been.
I had not met Russell before and was feeling nervous and self-conscious. What would the head of the Wampanoag Tribal Council have to say to me, a descendent of a Roxbury militia captain who had played a leading role in the Great Swamp Fight, one of the most notorious massacres of King Philip’s War? To make matters worse, I was representing the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, an organization (until recent decades) so brahminical its blood ran blue. Over the first century of the Colonial Society’s existence, many authors in its publications had contributed to the misimpression that Native Americans had simply vanished from the New England landscape, greatly complicating the struggle by contemporary native peoples for tribal recognition from the Federal government. I had a bad case of liberal guilt.
Yet Russell had a talent for putting people at their ease. During the long drive out to Deerfield, our conversation focused more and more on the positive things a conference on recent scholarship in Native American history could accomplish. At such gatherings in the past, Russell observed, academics and Native Americans had a way of talking past each other. Because scholars necessarily focused on written evidence, native peoples often went away angry from academic conferences, believing their past had been appropriated by presenters who showed insufficient respect for oral tradition, a source of knowledge to which Native Americans alone held the key. Russell wanted a conference where tribal historians and university professors would participate as respected equals in their exploration of the past.
Ultimately, the conference fully vindicated Russell’s vision, but that never would have happened without the imagination and hard work of the other members of the Program Committee, whom we first met that day at lunch in Deerfield: Neal Salisbury had been an early leader in the revival of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Native American studies; Colin Calloway was a young scholar of remarkable energy whose many titles on New England Indians had already won him a considerable reputation; and Barry O’Connell had brought passionate commitment and keen analysis to his writings about William Apess, an outspoken early nineteenth-century Indian preacher. Absolutely crucial to the whole endeavor was Marge Bruchac, an Abenaki woman, who conveyed a deeper understanding of Indian culture to students and tourists through her first-person interpretations at Old Sturbridge Village. Without Marge’s extensive connections in the Native American community and her skill at peacemaking, the conference could never have happened as it did. Jean O’Brien, an Ojibwe scholar teaching at the University of Minnesota, made a number of important contributions to the committee’s work through the miracle of email.
One of the most prolonged points of discussion during that first meeting of the Program Committee at Deerfield concerned where the conference should take place. We were fortunate that in the end the choice fell upon Old Sturbridge Village, which not only gave us access to its superb meeting facilities but also brought us the enthusiastic support of its Director of Research, Collections, and Library, Jack Larkin, and the managerial talents of Ed Hood, who joined the program committee as OSV’s representative.
The choice of Sturbridge placed us squarely in Nipmuc territory and inevitably drew us into the controversy over that tribe’s battle for federal recognition (which Colin Calloway and Neal Salisbury describe more extensively in their introduction). The kind of conference we wanted could only happen with the blessing of the Nipmuc people, but which of the various bands would be represented in the opening ceremonies? In the end, we invited them all, and thanks to Marge Bruchac’s diplomatic talents, all attended. In fact, native people came from all over New England: well over 50 percent of registrants were Indians, a first for an academic conference of this sort.
It’s hard to put into words what made the conference so special. Perhaps it was the large number of native faces? Perhaps it was the care with which the Program Committee had worked to ensure a variety of voices among the presenters? Perhaps it was the warm sunshine at the cusp of early spring in Massachusetts? Discussion was certainly spirited, but it was respectful. And there was excitement in the air about being part of a new, cooperative endeavor in Native American studies.
The Colonial Society is clearly proud of its role in the conference. From the beginning, the effort enjoyed the enthusiastic patronage of its president, Frederick Ballou, and the fact that proceedings of such a conference would make a good book fully justified the foresight of its Publications Committee, who should rightly be regarded as the initiators of the whole project. A bundle of sacred herbs (intended to bring “good mind” to any deliberations), presented to the Society at the conference by the Northeastern Representative of the American Indian Movement, now enjoys a place of honor in the Society’s Beacon Hill headquarters.
Not every paper given at such a gathering adapts itself well to a volume of proceedings, but all enriched the discussion. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the presenters whose wise words do not appear in this volume: Emerson W. Baker, Kathleen Bragdon, Wendi Starr Brown, Catherine Ann Corman, Thomas L. Doughton, Jessie Little Doe Fermino, Bernice Forrest, Maurice Foxx, Kim Houde, Thomas Kelleher, Joan Luster, Kevin McBride, Ann McMullen, Alice Nash, Mark A. Nicholas, Chief Wise Owl, Carole J. Palavra (Red Sunset), R. Todd Romero, Deborah A. Rosen, Faren R. Siminoff, Tobias Vanderhoop, Chief Walter Vickers, Michael A. Volmar, and Frederick Wiseman.
Colin Calloway and Neal Salisbury carefully watched over the journey from conference to book. They are both the sort of expeditious, fair-minded editors any publisher dreams about. Kate Viens resolutely took on the painstaking job of copy-editing, and Jeanne Abboud is responsible for the book’s handsome design, as she is for so many Colonial Society publications.
Unfortunately, Russell Peters’s ill health prevented him from attending the conference he envisioned, and he died before the proceedings could appear in print. From the outset, his hopes shaped our whole endeavor, and the editors have chosen to dedicate this book to his memory.
John W. Tyler, April 2003
Editor of Publications