Gordon Brainerd: Bear Clan Medicine Man
Gordon Brainerd is his Christian name, but to the Bear Clan of the Quinnipiac Tribal Council of the Algonquian Confederacy, he is Fox-Running, medicine chief.
Fox-Running was given his name because of his penchant for "running around, talking to people" about this area's indigenous Native American culture, he says. He can trace his roots back to the Iroquois and Algonquian people.
On Monday, Sept. 24, Fox-Running will give a free talk sponsored by the Totoket Historical Society at 7 p.m. in the Community Room at the Atwater Memorial Library.
In addition to sharing his knowledge of the Connecticut, western Massachusetts, and western end of Long Island confederacy of Native Americans thriving here pre-contact, Fox-Running's talks often include visual aids. He may arrive in buckskin regalia and share arrowheads, spearheads, and other finds he's gleaned from this very area.
"If I don't tell people, who will?" asks this Branford resident. "I want people to see, and to know and to learn what my ancestors did for survival."
Also known as a medicine man, Fox-Running's a "spiritualist," one of many types of medicine men. He completed a vision quest to meet his spirit guide on the road to becoming a spiritual leader.
"We believe in a creator. But our way of belief is different. We say the creator put us on this earth as stewards of the land," he says.
In August 2011, Fox-Running blessed and oversaw the reburial of human remains of indigenous bones unearthed in Branford after Tropical Storm Irene stripped away a section of Linden Avenue shoreline. The bones made headlines, as did the reburial ceremony.
Fox-Running's heritage also includes French, Canadian, and English bloodlines. He's a member of a storied Connecticut and Stony Creek family, the Brainerds. As one of nine children, Fox-Running always knew his Native American ancestry, but was discouraged from discussing it.
"We were told never to talk about it in public for fear of harassment," he says. "I didn't, for many years."
About 20 years ago, Fox-Running truly embraced his background, encouraged by anthropologist and Mohegan Medicine Woman Gladys Tantaquidgeon, who passed away in 2005 at age 106. He met her while seeking more information about his Native American archeological finds.
"I gleaned a lot of information from her about her people. She always told me, 'You're a Native.'"
In 2006, Fox-Running approached non-profit North Guilford Dudley Farm Museum, of which he is a participating member, about starting up a permanent museum of his artifacts. The resulting Dawnland Native American Exhibit in the Dudley Barn features his vast collection, as well as other educational tools and visuals. Fox-Running serves as a curator.
To gather his archeological finds, Fox-Running says, "I do a lot of research of locations, by going back into Colonial records, and then I'll go to the land owner and ask permission to do an archeological dig."
In this way, he's found articles left behind by area tribes including Quinnipiac (New Haven), Totoket (North Branford/Branford), and Menunkatuck (Guilford/North Guilford).
"If I didn't do it, it probably would be lost," he says, noting most who find an arrowhead will likely keep it as a curiosity, but never learn more about the incredible human beings who engineered it.
Fox-Running's reclaimed hundreds, if not thousands, of artifacts, some 10,000 years old (including granite tomahawk heads).
He once thought to give his finds to an established museum, but, "I didn't want it to get stuck in a box and put on a shelf. It's part of my culture's ancestry. I want to get it all documented and on display so when I'm gone, somebody else can make good use of it. Otherwise, it's lost."
Hear Fox-Running speak about the area's indigenous people on Monday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. in the Community Room of the Atwater Memorial Library, 1720 Foxon Road, North Branford. The free event is sponsored by the Totoket Historical Society; learn more about the society and its events at www.totokethistoricalsociety.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Dawnland Native American Exhibit is found at the Dudley Barn at Dudley Farm Museum, 2351 Durham Road, North Guilford. The free exhibit is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. from mid-May to mid-October.