"Introduction to the Wampanoag People" by Annawon Weeden, Mashpee Wampanoag
"Wampanoag (womp-u-nuck) translates in the English language to mean "People of the dawn" or "People of the first light." This describes the people who inhabit the region now known as southeastern Massachusetts and eastern Rhode Island. The exact boundaries varied from the time the Wampanoag first settled in this region roughly 12,000 years ago to the present day. The northern border of Wampanoag territory is the North River around the area now known as Marshfield, Massachusetts. Our southwest border was the body of water now referred to as Narragansett Bay in what is now known as Rhode Island. Cape Cod and the nearby islands, both Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, are also within our territory, making the Atlantic Ocean our eastern boundary. We see ourselves as the first to greet the sun on this continent known as America today, thus our name: "people of the first light." Everything we need for our lives comes from Turtle Island, our name for the land on which we reside. The land has changed quite a bit—but our traditions continue, as you will have a chance to experience in these activities."
The recounting and passing on of spoken history is as valid as any written text. Wampanoag oral tradition affirms that Wampanoag people have always been here. Too often, classroom discussions use the unsubstantiated Bering Straitstheory to explain how America was populated. Listen to contemporary Wampanoag people explain that Massachusetts is the Wampanoag homeland -- they are the indigenous inhabitants. They have been here for thousands of generations.
"The legends teach me that we have always been here. Just take the Maushop legend for example. It says that Maushop led our people to Aquinnah to take us away from the fighting that was going on, on the mainland. While he was leading us there he dragged his toe and broke off that piece of land that became Noepe. The fact that he created that island tells me that we have always been there, ever since that place was an island. Ever since that place was created."
-- Tobias Vanderhoop
"Ours is an oral history, and was not written down. Our story was never told in American history. This is a time to begin by doing research and writing our history... This is the thing we must do. As the history of New England is re-examined, it is imperative that it be revised to include the Wampanoag side of the story. If this is revisionism, so be it. The history of this country will become more balanced and believable."
-- Russell Peters
"Moshop was a man of peace who first lived on the elbow of Cape Cod. He loved to contemplate the beauty about him and would sit long hours tranquilly smoking his big Peudelee, or pipe, while he watched the clouds or stared out at the ever- changing sea. He was known as a just man and a kindly philosopher whose wisdom was unquestioned."
-- From "How Martha’s Vineyard Came to Be" as told by Helen Attaquin, Aquinnah Wampanoag (1923 - 1993)
Wampanoag Life Before 1620
For thousands of years, the Wampanoag people maintained a rich, sophisticated society, using their wisdom and knowledge to live fully. Often, the description of Wampanoag culture in storybooks and related materials is trivialized and romanticized and even implies that this culture was primitive. Listen to Wampanoag voices explain that their ancestors' way of life was comfortable, stable, and one with the land.
"It's amazing how one group of people can look at another group of people and not credit them with the basic wisdom and common sense to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves in an adequate manner. Give us the respect of being Wampanoag people in our own land."
-- Linda Coombs
"We have lived with this land for thousands of generations- fishing in the waters, planting and harvesting crops, hunting the four-legged and winged beings and giving respect and thanks for each and every thing taken for our use. We were originally taught to use many resources, remembering to use them with care, respect, and with a mind towards preserving some for the seven generations of unborn, and not to waste anything."
Wampanoag (1954 -1995)
"It is a seasonal-based diet. That is to say, as fruits, berries, and flowers came into their season, they were harvested and consumed in large quantities while they were fresh and available. Surplus was preserved by such methods as drying, smoking, and the like. All forms of fowl, water fowl, and some now-extinct fowl were gathered and consumed, such as roasted ducks, roasted geese, passenger pigeon, partridge. As were all the quadrupeds or four-legged animals such as deer, bear, moose, elk, raccoon, rabbit, skunk, squirrel."
-- Earl "Chiefie" Mills, Jr.
"For thousands of years Wampanoag Indians lived here on Martha's Vineyard in a series of villages consisting of circular, bark-covered wigwams called wetus. They hunted mammals on land and sea and collected shellfish and plants, fish, and fowl."
-- Helen Manning
Wampanoag Life After 1620
After 1620, despite the invasion of their homeland, the Wampanoag successfully struggled to maintain their communities and their spiritual lands. History books often focus on the Pilgrim story and omit Wampanoag history. As a result, myths about Metacom, land sales, and the First Thanksgiving have replaced the recorded facts. The Pilgrims, who came to acquire land, inappropriately saw the Wampanoag land as "empty," and felt it was their right and duty to master it. This misconception about the Wampanoag relationship with the land is at the heart of the irreconcilable differences between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag. Listen to Wampanoag people describe this time in their history.
"Native Americans have a different perspective on American history, and that should be respected. Columbus and other Europeans who came to this land were invaders. Most of the ensuing events involve combat, distrust, broken promises, losses for both sides, and the greater destruction of the Native people."
-- Joan Avant Tavares
"Since the boats arrived on this continent, even before the Colonists, the intruders have done everything possible to take over and eradicate the Indigenous People by force of the gun. Land was stolen, tribal peoples were moved all around the country, and our ways of worship were forcibly changed."
-- Nancy Eldredge
Wampanoag Successful Survival
In the 18th and 19th centuries, despite poverty, illness, and prejudice, Wampanoag communities and traditions endured. Although the Wampanaog are not mentioned in textbooks after the late 17th century, the Wampanoag continue to live and work in their homeland. Listen as Wampanoag people describe their pain, their fight for Native rights, and their economic and cultural survival.
Economic and Cultural Survival
"When mum was a little girl, they used to take tourists from the boat and take them up to the cliffs with oxen... and when I was a kid we used to take stands, and go sell on the banks. We would sit out near the paths and sell to the tourists."
-- Gladys Widdiss
"I used to drive the oxen and everything. Used to go everywhere with them, used to hay and plow the fields with Grandpa. Oh, loads of fun."-- Minnie Malonson
(Glady's Mother, 1896 --1982)
"Since as early as I can remember, my heart was set on going whaling. I was born at Gay Head in 1877, a few years after it ceased to be an Indian reservation. We were only twelve miles from New Bedford, the center of the whaling industry."
-- Amos Smalley
Oppression and Resistance
Excerpt from a letter to the Governor about the overseers, June 11, 1752
"We poor Indians in Mashpee, in Barnstable county, we truly are much troubled by these English neighbors of ours being on this land of ours, and in our marsh and trees. Against our will these Englishmen take away from us what was our land. They parcel it out to each other, and the marsh along with it against our will. And as for our streams, they do not allow us peacefully to be when we peacefully go fishing. They beat us greatly, and they have houses on our land against our will."
"The land of my fathers was gone; and their characters were not known as human beings but as beasts of prey. We were represented as having no souls to save, or to lose, but as partridges upon the mountains. All these degrading titles were heaped upon us. Thus, you see, we had to bear all this tide of degradation."
-- William Apess
(So loved that he was officially adopted by the Wampanoag)
"It was a legislative act that kept the Mashpee Indians from learning to read and write. An Act of 1789, Sec 5, the Regulations of the Plantation. Prohibiting instruction of a Mashpee in reading and writing under the pain of death. My grandmother, she did know how to read and write but there were so many that didn't because it wasn't allowed. After a while they did vote for a certain amount of money to go to schools in Mashpee, in later years."
-- Mable L. Avant
The Wampanoag people are still here. Too often, classroom discussions about the Wampanoag center on the past, presenting lifestyles as if the people themselves no longer exist. Listen to the voices of contemporary Wampanoag people, as they dispel the myth, and present this important reality.
"My name is Maurice L. Foxx I am also known as Strong Bear. I am a tribal member, Wampanoag Nation, Massachusetts. I am also Commissioner on Indian Affairs. I've been working to come up with ideas that bring the people of the native community and the people of Massachusetts to an awareness of the fact that native people are still here. We've changed somewhat but we're still here."
-- Maurice L. Foxx
""What every American Indian must learn to do is keep both feet on shore, remain an Indian, but also understand the need to occasionally sail into the white man's territory to survive."
-- John Peters Slow Turtle
Supreme Medicine Man
(1930 - 1997)
"As Native Americans we've been rather quiet about our identity until the late 1960s. We've always been self-sufficient; knew how to take care of our families and how to use everything around us. Now, If you're going to survive as Native Americans, you need to open your mouth and say 'I'm Here!'"
"My name is Linda Coombs. I am a member of the Aquinnah or Gay Head Wampanoag. I live in Mashpee because that is a Wampanoag community and I have lived there for 20 years. A lot of times people think that being Indian is something you do rather than something you are. I’ve had people ask me, 'So, how do you like being an Indian?' Well, compared to what? I have never been anything else."
-- Linda Coombs
Generations to come
"It still amazes me that people think we live in teepees... (I think teachers should understand) that if there is one native kid in your classroom, they can't represent a whole nation -- they are just one person's point of view."
-- Mishanagqus, age 16
"I'm a Wampanoag because my ancestors were, and my Mom is and my Grandfather is. What I'd like teachers and people to do is include more Indians in history. They talk about it but they don't really get into it. I'd like them to know that Indians were the first people here, that they were good people, they accepted the Pilgrims and helped them out. Nowadays, they still help people a lot. They are still caring."
-- Eddie, age 13
From the archives of the Children's Museum of Boston