For tribal elder Elizabeth ColdWind Santana-Kiser, the people’s history matters

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In recognition of Native American Heritage Month in November, MassLive asked readers to identify people who are leaders from the Indigenous community throughout the state, working to make a difference in their own area of interest, be it politics, education, business or the arts.

MassLive will publish profiles of these leaders through November. These are people our readers have identified as inspirational, who may be doing good acts for their communities. They are being recognized for their accomplishments, leadership and commitment to inspire change.

Elizabeth ColdWind Santana-Kiser

Submitted photo.Elizabeth ColdWind Santana-Kiser

Age: 73

Community: Worcester

Her story: History and community have shaped Elizabeth ColdWind Santana-Kiser’s work over her life. She is a tribal elder, councilwoman and the tribal historic preservation officer for the Chaubunagungamaug band of the Nipmuck people. Much of her work with her people has been to be “at the forefront of improving the lives, health and well-being of my people for more than five decades,” she told MassLive.

“I have worked in the community for many years in public education and healthcare for Indian people and the larger community,” she said. “I worked with the Worcester Public Schools and founded the Nipmuc Women’s Health Coalition in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Finally, I was elected to take on a leadership role in our tribe as a council member.”

The coalition’s mission has been to provide disease prevention and health promotion education to Nipmuck people and for other New England tribes in the region. It developed multiple research-based, community-based health education initiatives including the Nipmuck Study Circles.

By 1999, Santana-Kiser worked with the University of Massachusetts Medical School and coordinated two major healthcare conferences focused on the Nipmuck people and solutions to improve health and lifestyles, the college added. A year later, she started her work with the Great Brook Valley Health Center and co-founded the Nipmuc Family Dental Clinic.

Santana-Kiser’s work as of late has been on the 1676 Battle of Great Falls Advisory Board, recovering historical artifacts from the time. The Battle of Great Falls was part of King Philip’s War, which unraveled the relationship between King Philip’s father Massasoit of the Wampanoag people and the Pilgrims decades after their arrival to Plymouth, as seen in the documentary series 500 Nations.

Santana-Kiser has also worked with Brown University on a project called “Stolen Relations Recovering Stories of Indigenous Enslavement in America,” a database project with the aim to illuminate and understand the role the enslavement of Indigenous peoples played in settler colonialism over time. The project covers indigenous slavery from 1492 until 1900.

She’s also provided presentations on her people’s history to the community and working to “correct misconceptions people may have about Native Americans,” she told MassLive.

In her words: “As a historical preservation officer, you must have an interest in history of people. Your role is not just to preserve historical artifacts, but to protect the historical record of a given period. You must be willing to give your time and effort to this cause. You should be open to working with other like-minded individuals and organizations. Finally, you must be willing to research and learn as much as possible about the history of the group you’re working to preserve.”

We’re always open to hear about more inspiring people. If you’d like to suggest someone else who should be recognized, please fill out this form.

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