Honoring the Past • Healing the Present • Celebrating the Future

massasoit statue“Listening to the Call of the Great Spirit: Facing 400 years of Colonization”

For the second year, the Peace Pagoda initiated a 6-day walk from Provincetown, MA, on Friday, November 17, 2017, and ending in Plymouth, MA, on November 23, Thanksgiving Day, today. Following is a report from Nolumbeka Project member David Detmold who is walking with them today: (scroll down for his report about the gathering On November 23)

Dear Friends at Nolumbeka Project

As the monks and nuns from the Leverett Peace Pagoda chant and pray in the hallway here at the oldest continuous monthly meeting of Quakers in North America (established 1657) in Sandwich, Cape Cod I look out the windows at the dawn of a new Thanksgiving and recall the events of yesterday. Yesterday I woke at 5:00 and poured some biodiesel in my tank and drove down here to find the Peace Walk, which has been wending its way south and west from Provincetown since Friday. I met them in Mashpee where I stopped for hot chocolate after searching for an hour or more in torrential rain. I had pretty much given up on finding them until I pulled into the parking lot of the little coffee shop – and there they were, wringing wet, pouring water out of their boots, and glad to see me!

The theme of this year’s Peace Walk is “Listening to the Call of the Great Spirit – Facing 400 Years of the Forced Colonization”  (1620 to 2200) of Native People on this continent. We will be joining the Wampanoag and other Native People at Plymouth Rock today.

Yesterday we stopped to listen to Mother Bear Peters take us through a tour of Wampanoag history at the Mashpee Indian Museum on Route 130.

She told us the Wampanoag had run the town and governed their own affairs since 1834 – all the town offices and the police force were made up of Wampanoags. But things began to change in the 1960s when a trailer park for workers at the nearby Otis Air Force Base set up camp in their town. Pretty soon whites were running everything again, just as they did before the itinerant Pequot preacher, William Apess, (born in Colrain) came to town in the early 1830s and helped organize a petition drive to nullify the laws that placed white people in control of the Mashpee Wampanoag – who, like other Native People in Massachusetts were legally held to be second class citizens, wards of the state incompetent to govern their own affairs. Apess preached in the Old Indian Meetinghouse, just south of the Museum in Mashpee.

When the governor of the State received that petition, signed by over 100 men and women from Mashpee, calling for an end to white theft of Mashpee land and crops and wood he considered it an act of Rebellion and hand Apess thrown in jail. But the state legislature granted the petition a year later after favorable press accounts reminded citizens of the Commonwealth of the debt we owe the People who saved the colonists from starvation in 1620, and helped them learn how to live on this land.

The building in which the Mashpee Museum is housed was built by a white pastor named Richard Bourne sent to Mashpee by Harvard University in 1793 to preach to the Natives.

“We went to their church,” Mother Bear explained, “but we didn’t let them know we were still doing our traditional ceremonies out in the woods.”

She mentioned another pastor, Phineas Fish, paid the equivalent of more than $100,000  (500 pounds) annually to convert the Wampanoag – who concluded they were not “serious people” after he told the story of Noah’s Ark in church and one Native man responded, “Wow, that boat sure must have stunk!” Phineas helped himself to 400 acres of Wampanoag land.

In those days, Wampanoag boys as young as 10 were allowed to be impressed into service on the Whaling Boats that formed the economic engine of the Cape and the Islands, in pursuit of the oil of the day. A lawyer from the tribe finally got the enforced servitude of Wampanoag boys at sea outlawed, but not on land.

Photos in sepia tones of Mother Bear’s parents (her father was the Medicine Man Slow Turtle), grandparents and great grandparents line the wall of the little parlor. “When I grew up here, Mashpee was all Wampanoag. We were always together. It gave me a good grounding, and so I am never knocked offmy center, not like the kids of today.

Today, the Mashpee Wampanoag only retain 400 acres of their original township – land surrounding the museum, the meetinghouse, and the tribal offices. Phineas Fish got away with as much of their land as the entire tribe now holds today. And he was not the only one. Mashpee is real rife with high end housing developments and Rte 130 is mined with landscaping firms, there to cater to the needs of condo owners who are unable to lift a rake or hoe a weed from a flower bed; the Mashpee Commons is a faux Colonial masterpiece of plastic architecture that will be torn down a generation later to house more Starbucks, Gaps, and TJ Max outlets.

A plume of toxic waste from Otis creeps down the waterways of Mashpee. Epidemiologists have found clusters of cancer in the flight path of the giant cargo planes, who dumped their excess fuel before landing.

In Massachusetts, “It used to be punishable by death to teach Indians to read or write,” Mother Bear told us.

When the Commonwealth moved to incorporate Mashpee in 1870, (“so they could tax us”) the Wampanoag voted against it. But the state forced the incorporation on them anyway. Little by little, and then all at once in the 1970s, Mashpee was taken away from Wampanoag control.

Mother Bear and other members of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe will meet us at Plymouth Rock at the end of this morning’s walk. It is a sunny day. We have much to be thankful for.

david at plymouth

At the Statue of Massasoit, on the 48th Annual Day of Mourning, Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 2017, Pawtuxet, Plymouth, MAby David Detmold. Photos by George Esworthy

 

More than a thousand Native Americans and their allies from many nations gathered on Thursday for the 48th annual observance of the National Day of Mourning at the Statue of Massasoit (Great Sachem of the Pokanoket Wampanoag), on Cole’s Hill in Pawtuxet, now commonly referred to as Plymouth, Massachusetts.

I was there with a small contingent of walkers organized under the banner of the Leverett Peace Pagoda, whose monks led a six-day walk through the cold and rain from Provincetown to Plymouth Rock to raise awareness of the ongoing struggle of the Native People of this continent to free themselves from the oppression of colonization after four centuries of genocide since the landing of the Mayflower in 1620.

The Peace Pagoda will lead this walk each year until the 400th anniversary of that event in 2020. Sister Clare Carter said she hoped hundreds of people would join the walk on Cape Cod next year, to initiate “a great awakening” of the role of Native People as caretakers of the land at this critical moment in history, with the fate of the Earth hanging in the balance.

Before arriving at Plymouth Rock, about a dozen walkers gathered nearby at the gates of the Pilgrim Nuclear Reactor. They beat hand drums and chanted Na Mu Myo Ho Renge Kyo and laid peace cranes among the growing plants outside the gates.

I sat in the middle of the access road for a brief time, praying for the reactor’s immediate closure. No security guards appeared, no police came driving by until we were ready to leave, 20 minutes later.

Security has been lax at the 45-year old reactor, operated by the Entergy Corporation. One of the last operating nukes in New England, Pilgrim remains on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s category 4 watch list as one of the worst run reactors in the country. Tens of thousands of lethally radioactive spent fuel rods remain in an overcrowded storage pool built to house a quarter of that number. In the event of a serious accident or meltdown at the Pilgrim reactor, the approved emergency plan calls for the closing of the two bridges to Cape Cod, where residents would be urged to shelter in place.

“That’s going to work well,” commented Shelburne Falls resident George Esworthy, who was among the walkers on the six day journey along the Cape.

We walked into the center of Plymouth and joined the growing crowd around the Statue of Ousamequin (popularly known as Massasoit, though that word really means Great Sachem), where the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe held opening ceremonies at 11 a.m.

They Mashpee Wampanoag had split off from the main observance of the National Day of Mourning after 1997, when 25 participants were arrested and brutalized by state police and local law enforcement officers during the march that follows the annual observance at the statue, overlooking the harbor and Plymouth Rock.

“We were lucky not to get arrested that day,” Mother Bear Peters told us at the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Museum on Wednesday.

Following that interrupted march in 1997, the United American Indians of New England (UAINE), sponsors of the National Day of Mourning, reached a negotiated settlement with the Town of Plymouth, after presenting evidence of the brutality of the police in making the arrests. Natives were dragged by their hair down the street, and UAINE had the video to prove it.

Despite the fact that past National Day of Mourning events had featured the surprise burial of Plymouth Rock (twice!), the disruption of the fake Pilgrim march, and the mass boarding of the Mayflower replica by Native Americans, the settlement ensures that UAINE will continue to hold their annual march and protest at the Statue of Massasoit without police interference and without the need for a permit, as long as they give prior communication to the town.

Hartman Deetz, grandson of Russell Peters, first chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag, opened the proceedings with a short speech as tribal members lit a cedar fire and prepared offerings of tobacco and burned sage in a quahog shell, placed at the foot of their ancestor’s statue.

“Thank you to Ousamequin, Yellow Feather, Massasoit,” he began. “Thank you to his children, who were killed and whose bodies were scattered to the four winds, to the far corners of the Earth.”

He referred to the children of Ousamequin, Wamsutta, the elder son, who died, perhaps of poison, three days after being imprisoned and released from the Plymouth Colony in 1662, and his younger brother Metacom (known as King Phillip) who was among the leaders of the tribal confederacy that fought back against the incursion and depredations of the colonists on Native lands in the Northeast in 1675-76.

Metacom was killed near Mount Hope in Rhode Island. His body was quartered and hung in trees; one hand was sent to the king of England; one hand given to the “praying Indian” who killed him; his head was impaled on a pike at the entrance to Plymouth, where it remained for more than two decades.

We visited that spot, and read the plaque commemorating Metacom’s grisly dismemberment, a grim counterpoint to the prevailing myth of the Pilgrim’s happy Progress in harmony with Native People.

“Thank you to our relatives, our ancestors who came before us, who were sold into slavery, who were left to freeze on the islands in Boston Harbor,” Hartman Deetz continued.

“We have given up so much. So much has been taken from us. All we want is to have clean air, clean water and soil, to be able to feed our children at our tables. These are not big things to ask for. All people in the world should have these things. And all of you who stand here should know that the soil beneath your feet is stolen land. It has been taken from us by the crimes of genocide and colonization. And if you do not acknowledge that, you are guilty and complicit in those crimes. That is not a harsh thing to say; it is simply the truth.

“Thank you to our ancestors who managed to survive and keep our People and our culture alive all through these years. Even when the Europeans brought diseases over on their ships that killed us before they even reached our shores, you managed to survive. They tried to wipe us out by contagion, by war, by pushing us west, ever west; even when we fought for this country they pushed us out.

“And I remember last year at this time, last winter at Oceti Sakowin” – at Standing Rock – “when they turned their water cannons on us, when our sister Vanessa lost her eyesight, what we were fighting for then, what we are fighting for now.

“We used to have a whole country. What do we have now? We need to reclaim the spirit of resistance within our People, so that we no longer have to live as the oppressed in the land where we were born, the land where we were planted by the Creator.

“I know many of you came here dressed for freezing weather, like in years past. But we look around and it seems like winter will never come. And we see the wildfires out in the West. We see the hurricanes coming up from the South. And we know why these things are happening. And we know what we must do to change our relationship to this system of oppression of our People, of our Mother Earth. We must find that spirit of resistance and we must change.

“Thank you Ousamequin. Holding out the hand of friendship at first is always the right thing to do, even though you knew the Europeans had despoiled our graves and stolen our funerary offerings and taken our corn and bean seeds in order to survive.

“And thank you to your sons who stood up and fought for what was ours when the faithlessness and greed of the colonists became too much to bear. I have brought sage from Oceti Sakowin and tobacco. We offer it now with our prayers. Aho!”

Then, as the drumming and the chanting of the Wampanoags filled the growing circle of witnesses, a burly white man with gray hair forced his way through the crowd, shouting, “This is my land! You lost the war in 1863!” (He meant, perhaps, 1676, but he was very angry and agitated.) “I have a right to be here! Have you never heard of the First Amendment? This is White People’s Land!”

He was carrying an American flag that he thrust before him like a lance to clear a path to the center of the drum circle, as the Wampanoags and many others began yelling, “Get him out of here!”

He was wearing a white sweatshirt emblazoned with the slogan, “It’s Great to be White” and bearing the names of the slaveholding presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, along with the turkey supporting Philadelphian Benjamin Franklin.

After the initial confrontation and threat of violence, he was calmly escorted to the outskirts of the ceremony by Wampanoag women, who surrounded him and led him away as he cried, “Don’t take my flag. Thank you. Don’t take my flag.”

When the drumming ended, Hartman Deetz said, “The races are getting bold today. People who stand on their white privilege, people who wear “It’s Great to Be White,” they still want to take our land. These are not the kind of people I want to associate with. We have had enough of them and their kind of thinking!”

I had brought a gift of tobacco grown and harvested by friends from the Nolumbeka Project at Wissitenewag, propagated from very old seed from Cornplanter’s land in Seneca Country, to offer to Mother Bear Peters at the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Museum the day before. I spoke to her at the Statue of Massasoit, and she told me she had given the tobacco to Russell Peters, Hartman Deetz’ father.

At noon, the drums sounded again, and the United American Indians of New England took the stage to formally initiate the 48th National Day of Mourning.

It began with prayers to the four directions, to the Sun and the Earth, from Mayan Medicine Keeper Juan Gonzalez, offered to the sound of ceremonial rattles and the wailing cry of a conch shell horn.

Moonamum James, of the Aquinnah Wampanoag, was the first of many more Native speakers to follow. He is the son of Frank James, the Aquinnah leader who founded the National Day of Mourning in 1970, after being invited to speak to a gathering of civic leaders in Plymouth, who reviewed his prepared speech and refused to let him give it. So he delivered his speech at the Statue of Massasoit instead. And so the tradition was born.

His son gave a powerful and comprehensive speech, delivering “the bitter truths of history,” dispelling the foundational national myth of the Pilgrims’ harmonious coexistence with the “vanishing people” of this continent.

He said Americans were unwilling to turn to the even earlier European colonial effort at Jamestown to weave the nation’s founding mythology because those colonists had resorted to cannibalism in their effort to survive, and that would not comfort the hearts of American families gathering at harvest time to celebrate the fruits of their national endeavor.

He said Governor John Winthrop ordained the first formal Thanksgiving in Massachusetts in July of 1637, to honor the massacre of 700 Pequot men, women and children, who had been celebrating their Green Corn Dance when Captain John Mason surrounded their village near Mystic, Connecticut and burned them alive.

“When the colonists landed on our shores, they would not have survived without our aid. And in return we got genocide, the theft of our lands, and never ending oppression,” James said. “They murdered us from the South Pole to the North Pole, and they sold our ancestors into slavery for 220 shillings each, the equivalent of $33 today.”

James said the greatest advance Native People in Massachusetts have made in recent decades is represented by the fact that so many allies had come to the Statue of Massasoit today. “You will help us  to destroy the Pilgrim myth.”

And he said the National Day of Mourning would continue as long as “sports teams and schools continue to use racist mascots, as long as the military and corporations continue to pollute Mother Earth,” until the wars of genocide in Central and South America are ended, until “racism is illegal,” until discrimination of “our two spirit sisters and brothers” is ended, until there are no more homeless, until “no person is left to die without access to quality health care, and until “union busting is a thing of the past.”

James called for the elimination of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“We do not need federal oversight to govern ourselves. Why has no BIA official been prosecuted? When will the billions of dollars stolen,” by those who pretend to hold Native lands in trust, “be turned over to our People?”

With so many millions still living in bitter poverty in this land, James turned to the wisdom of the great Hunkpapa Lakota Medicine Man, Sitting Bull, saying, “Let us put our minds together and see what kind of life we can make for our children.”

He condemned the collateral damage of war inflicted on innocents throughout the ages, “from 1637 right down to Wounded Knee and Sand Creek,” and urged his listeners to reflect that, “the foundation of your wealth comes from the genocide of our people and the enslavement of our African brothers and sisters. “Glorifying genocidal adventurers like Christopher Columbus with statues, and slave owners like Washington and Jefferson, whose faces are carved in the sacred Black Hills of Dakota,” must come to an end, he said.

“We will remember all of our ancestors who went before us in struggle. We do not look on the arrival of Europeans on these shores as a reason to give thanks.”

He urged Native youth to “be strong, and learn about your People and our history. Like the soil and the sands and the tides, we shall endure. In the spirit of Metacom, Crazy Horse, and Ousamequin, I say to you, ‘We are Not Vanishing. We are Not Conquered. We are as Strong as Ever!’”

 

 

 

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Our Mission

The mission of the Nolumbeka Project is to promote a deeper, broader and more accurate depiction of the history of the Native Americans/American Indians of New England before and during European contact and colonization;

 

To protect and preserve sites sacred to, and of historic value to, the Native Americans/American Indians of New England; to create and promote related educational opportunities, preservation projects and cultural events; and to work in partnership, as much as possible, with the tribes.

 

We will strive to exemplify the Native American/American Indian peoples’ respect for Mother Earth and all living beings; to be mindful of our role as caretakers for future generations; and to honor our connection to the Earth and Sky and to the Creator.

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Who We Are

The Nolumbeka Project, Inc. is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of the history of Native Americans/American Indians of New England through educational programs, art, history, music, heritage seed preservation and cultural events. We are actively building, maintaining and expanding an historical archive research library for use by the Tribes and Educators of the Northeast and beyond.

Our Board of Directors is comprised of volunteers who have been active for more than 40 years in a number of other preservation, historical research, environmental and social justice organizations. 

Several of our Board members are of mixed Native American  /American Indian heritage.  

 



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