“A Giant Of A Woman”: Remembering Princess Winona

Princess Winona P. Harmon Baroni (1911-2003), member of the Wyandotte, Androscoggin, and Passamaquoddy tribes of Maine, and honorary member of the Penobscot tribe, was also Clan Mother of the Wollomonopougg Indian Council, Clan Mother of the Worcester Inter-Tribal Center, and Sachem (Chief) of the American Indian Federation of Lafayette, RI. Born in Lisbon Falls, ME, the daughter of Purlie E. and Helena A. Maines Harmon, she first came to Worcester at age 18 to earn her living as a seamstress at the West End Thread Mill, in Millbury, and the former Paul Hats Company, from which she retired. 

Native American women have always played a major role in their communities. When other American women in the nineteenth century were fighting for property and legal rights, they already held authority over their children, homes, and furnishings. Economically, they were entitled to use the clan’s land and managed its food distribution. They influenced the tribe’s political decisions and could even forbid their brothers and their sons from going to war. The clan mother—usually the oldest woman—wielded the most power. She oversaw the clan’s welfare, counseled its members, and was responsible for nominating, installing, monitoring, and removing the male chief. 

As a leader and teacher, Princess Winona guided members of her clan as well as other Native Americans and people from around the world. She helped found many important organizations, including the Indian Cultural Art Lodge of Worcester and the American Indianist Society. She was an active member of the Walking Bear Singers, Dighton Inter-Tribal Indian Council Oak, New England Native American Institute, United Native American Cultural Center, Laconia Indian Historical Association, Order of the Preservation of Indian Culture, and Greater Lowell Indian Cultural Association. 

Princess Winona was remarkable, as well, for her ability to share her love of Native American culture with others. In 1979, she started the Sterling Springs Powwow, which is still held on Father’s Day weekend each year [Note: This article was written in 2005.]. One of four women honored as members of the Helushka War Dance Society, she had the title of Gourd Dance Lady and was known for performing the Shawl Dance at many of the pow-wows she attended during her long, active life. Princess Winona also published an annual calendar of Indian social events and gave presentations at local high schools. Some students who learned about Native American culture from her, twenty years ago, are now teachers themselves and pass on that knowledge to another generation. Multiply that effect by the many such encounters that Princess Winona facilitated throughout her life, and you can see the power of sharing one’s heritage with others. 

Princess Winona also supported the Quinsigamond Village Community Center in Worcester, where she taught Native American culture, beadwork, and other crafts for 25 years, up until the week before her death at age 91. On April 15, 2003, the Lower Hall of the Community Center was dedicated to her. This year, on April 23 [2005], she will also be commemorated by a Princess Winona Memorial Dance at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Holden. Princess Winona made a difference in the lives of everyone who knew her, whether they called her Mother, Grandmother, Winona, or Auntie Jo. In Worcester County, her legacy lives on—even for those who never met her personally.

This article was published in the 2005 Spring issue of the WWHP Newsletter and is reprinted here with permission.

Published Date: 
September 18, 2016