This article is from The Royal Gazette, Bermuda August 27, 2013 by Jessie Moniz
Brinky’s proud of his unique heritage
“When I die, bury me in St David’s.” Those were some of the last words that Isabelle Griffins Tucker told her son, St Clair Brinkworth “Brinky” Tucker before she died in 2002 at the age of 86.
When Mr Tucker, 70, was a child, his mother’s pride in her heritage, which included Native American roots, helped him to ride out the merciless teasing and jokes that was commonly heaped on St David’s Islanders by the rest of the community.
These days, the joke is on the rest of the community, because now, everyone wants to be a St David’s Islander. This is thanks, in part, to Mr Tucker’s tireless efforts to educate Bermuda about St David’s unique cultural heritage and connections with indigenous people in the United States and the Caribbean.
“People from all walks of life come up to me now and tell me their father or grandfather or mother was from St David’s,” said Mr Tucker.
Mr Tucker’s confession, however, is that he was actually raised in Pembroke. His mother was from St David’s, but his father, Brinkworth Tucker, was brought up in the United States, and later returned to the Island to work as a taxi driver.
Mr Tucker, now retired, was a police officer. He studied at Bishop Garth Police College, Devon and Cornwall Police College and the Airport Security Police College, and then joined the Bermuda Police Force in 1962. He worked his way up the ladder and became an inspector in 1978, and served as officer-in-charge of the Airport Police Station, St George Police Station and Hamilton Police Station. He was the first person of St David’s Island ancestry to be promoted as an officer, and the first born Bermudian put in charge of Police prosecutions. He later worked as Aide De Camp (ADC) for Sir John Swan when he was Premier of Bermuda.
Although, Mr Tucker was curious about his family heritage as a child, he really didn’t start looking into it in any great detail until he was an adult.
During his research, he learned that Native American captives were brought to Bermuda in the late 1600s and early 1700s to be sold as slaves. They were often captives from various wars fought between Europeans and Native Americans. They were sold in the square in St George. Mr Tucker said although many were purchased by residents of St George, people from all over Bermuda would also purchase them, so Bermudians don’t have to have roots in St David’s to have Native American ancestry.
Mr Tucker found during genealogy research that one of his great grandmothers born in the 1700s was listed as a ‘free coloured woman’ which meant Indian or partly Indian in census records from the 1700s. Mr Tucker does not know her tribe as this was not recorded. There were about nine different tribes enslaved in Bermuda.
“The traditional name used for St David’s Islanders was ‘Mohawks’,” said Mr Tucker. “Through research and talking with Mohawk elderly overseas, I have found that Mohawks were never enslaved here. They were not one of the nine tribes.”
Mr Tucker believed that St David’s Islanders became known as ‘Mohawks’ around the time of emancipation. According to Mr Tucker, newly freed black Bermudians celebrated emancipation by going to church to pray, whereas, St David’s Islanders drank and partied.
“They couldn’t hold their liquor too much and they got loud and rowdy and boisterous,” said Mr Tucker. “The English soldiers said the Indians were acting like ‘Mohawks’, savages and cannibals and the name stuck.”
However, when Mr Tucker was growing up there were many elderly St David’s Islanders who classified themselves as ‘Mohawks’, including his mother.
“My mother passed away in 2002 and some of her last words were ‘I was born a Mohawk and I will die a Mohawk’,” said Mr Tucker. “While she was quite sick I took a couple of Indians to see her. They were struck by her appearance and friendliness. After they left she asked what tribe they were from. I said one was a Navaho and the other was Wampanoag and she said ‘I have never heard of those tribes’. She said ‘when I die, bury me in St David’s’.”
Around this time, he and a group of others got together to research and acknowledge their ancestry. This group eventually became known as St David’s Island Reconnection Indian Committee. However, not everyone was happy about Mr Tucker delving into the past.
“Some elders were against it because they felt it would draw more attention to St David’s Islanders,” said Mr Tucker. The group established connections with Native American tribes and nations in the United States and the Caribbean, and arranged the first pow wow in Bermuda held in 2002. Mr Tucker said that powwow was a deeply emotional experience for many St David’s Islanders.
“Many St David’s Islanders cried, because their heritage had been brought from the kitchen table into the open,” he said. “I remember one sister of this particular family had left St David’s because she wanted to better herself. She almost distanced herself from the rest of the family. At the pow wow a reconnection took place and she came back and apologised to her family.”
Mr Tucker has found that indigenous captives weren’t just brought here from the United States, but also from the Caribbean. At a pow wow in the United States he befriended the chief of a group in the Caribbean called the Tainos. He learned that Tainos were part of the group brought to Bermuda to be sold as slaves. Taino Milly Kariara Gandia took part in a pow wow in Bermuda, and was impressed with Bermuda and the people she met. Bermuda is now part of the Taino Federation which encompasses Cuba, Dominica, Puerto Rico and a couple of other islands.
“They have had various functions and invited us to participate,” said Mr Tucker. “We have been in constant communication with them ever since. We feel quite honoured.”
In 2009, Mr Tucker wrote a book ‘St David’s Island, Bermuda Its People, History and Culture’, to further educate Bermudians about St David’s culture and traditions. Today, few people can talk about Bermuda’s links with Native American heritage without mentioning Mr Tucker in some way. He is still actively involved with the committee, as a trustee and former chairman. He has been honoured with eagle feathers and red hawk feathers by Native Americans for his contributions in the education of Native American slavery in Bermuda, a special accolade in the Native American community. He has also been recognised locally. In 2007, he was honoured by Bermuda’s Department of Community and Cultural Affairs as an Outstanding Tradition- Bearer of the Family and Community.
He is married to Lyn and they have two sons, Sean and Stephen, and three grandchildren.