Tribal Historic Preservation Office Seeks Support for ‘Project Mishoon’

By Rae Gould

Almost five years ago Nipmuc Cheryl Stedtler notified the Nipmuc Nation that a dugout canoe, or “mishoon,” had been located in Lake Quinsigamond, Worcester. She immediately activated the necessary resources to secure rights to this valuable artifact through the Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources (MBUAR). Within a year, two other dugouts in the vicinity of the first one were also discovered.

As the first underwater archaeology project the tribe has ever worked on, this project has generated a lot of interest within the State of Massachusetts and among professionals in the region. Under the direction of Cheryl Stedtler, Project Mishoon has developed into a collaborative effort that involves Nipmuc people, state agencies, professional divers, and underwater archaeologists.

Now that the canoes have been documented through a series of underwater dives, the tribe is seeking funding for the next phases of the project. These phases include a $40,000 underwater survey involving sonar equipment and securing or building a structure that can house the two-year conservation process required to preserve the artifacts. Once the conservation material are in place, the tribe can then conduct an underwater excavation that will result in raising the canoes out of the water.

Drawing by D.Robinson

Funds need to be raised for all of these - the survey, excavation and conservation stages. And a permanent home will also have to be established where the canoes can be displayed while they are in the conservation process and then after they are preserved. This will enable the tribe to use the artifacts as educational tools for tribal members, school groups and others who want to learn more about both the history of dugout canoes and the conservation process.

While the tribe is excited about this project, raising the necessary funds has proved to be a stumbling block. Thanks to the efforts of Stedtler, a number of foundations have been applied to for grant money. The tribe is awaiting responses from these applications and hopes to raise at least the $40,000 to conduct the underwater survey this year.

Because the canoes are considered to be what are known as cultural resources, Project Mishoon falls under the management of the Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO), based at the Nipmuc Nation Tribal Office in Sutton. The primary responsibility of this office is oversight of all archaeological projects and sites related to the tribe. In addition, the THPO is also responsible for preservation of important sites within the Nipmuc ancestral homelands and conservation projects such as Project Mishoon.

Presently, all NAGPRA-related issues and projects (repatriation of our ancestors’ remains and sacred artifacts) are also managed by the THPO. In conjunction with the Research Department, the THPO works with museums, institutions, agencies and organizations on projects that represent Nipmuc history, both in the contact and pre-contact periods. In 2001, for example, the Nipmuc Nation assisted Old Sturbridge Village with the creation of an exhibit that includes Nipmuc history. This was a two-year exhibit that ended this past April.

Some of the long-term goals and projects of the THPO include helping to establish a Nipmuc Museum and Cultural Center that can house the tribe’s cultural resources and provide a learning center for both tribal youth and adults as well as the public; restoration of the Homestead on the Hassanamisco Reservation; documenting the Nipmuc ancestral homeland area through research; creating a database of all archaeological sites within our homelands so the information can be preserved for the future; and repatriating Nipmuc remains, associated burial items and sacred objects from all museums and institutions that hold any.

Anyone interested in volunteering with the THPO or Research Office should contact Rae Gould at 508-865-9800. Working with either of these departments is a great way to learn more about Nipmuc tribal history and get to know the expansive archive located at the Tribal Office.