OTTAWA — The Munsee Indian descendants are attempting again to regain federal recognition of the tribe.
The descendants tried in 2005, but failed in an attempt despite the work of the late Munsee Elder Clio Caleb Church, who began the pursuit in 1978. Church was the first female chief of the Munsee tribe after her election in 2005.
A year ago, in July, the idea of restarting the recognition campaign was born. Mike Ford, a Choctaw Indian, who lives in Ottawa, contacted Connie Hildebrandt, a Munsee and Chippewa descendant, if she would like to start the federal recognition campaign again.
Hildebrant and Ford joined forces to lay the ground work for the tribe’s work. Ford, a tribal historian and legal researcher, is knowledgeable of the Munsee Indians’ vast history.
In August 2018, Hildebrant started a Facebook page to supply information to descendants about the formation of the group and her intentions. She found 250 Munsee descendants through her research efforts.
The Munsee descendants group selected “The Munsee Tribe of Kansas” as their official name. The group will have its first official meeting Saturday at Foursquare Chapel Annex. Hildebrant said eventually they will be voting for tribal officers and will draft a constitution.
The group has a lot of behind-the-scenes work ahead before attempting to regain its recognition, Hildebrant said
“I am optimistic that we will be federally recognized again,” she said. “There are several steps towards this recognition, and they are working on the first step, which is enrollment. Everyone is to do a family tree, so that they can identify and verify Munsee descendants. The 1900 final Munsee roll list is where the enrollment begins. They will have to trace their ancestry through their Munsee ancestors back to the 1900 roll.”
Hildebrant said once they go through the family trees, descendants will need to make copies of birth certificates.
“This connection of ancestry won’t be passable on paper without birth certificates,” Hildebrant said. “All federally recognized tribes require birth certificates back to their ancestor on the tribal roll. If the birth certificates aren’t available, they can use death certificates.”
Hildebrant said this effort is a self-funded pursuit and they will be having fundraisers to fund the project.
Hildebrant continues to search for descendants as she wants everyone to be involved with this recognition.
The Munsee tribe has a rich history in Kansas and Franklin County. Munsee children attended Haskell Indian boarding schools into the 1950s. The Smithsonian Institute sent Ethnologist Truman Michelson to the Munsee area between Ottawa and Pomona to document the Munsee language in 1912-13. The Munsee tribe still has their tribal cemetery in the Chippewa Hills.
The majority of the Kansas Munsee tribe are descendants of Israel Welapachtshechen, who was murdered by militia in the Gnadenhutten Massacre of March 8, 1792. His children, Jacob and Ester, survived the massacre.
Ester survived by being a British captive. The British granted land and they established a new Gnadenhutten, but the area turned unsafe. The Munsee converts moved to Canada in 1792.
The War of 1812 led to the removal of several Indian tribes from Canada to what is now Franklin County. By 1895-96, bills had been introduced to dissolve the Munsee Reservation.