This fall marks the 400th anniversary of the 1621 Harvest Festival that Americans have long referred to as “the first Thanksgiving.” I can think of no better way to commemorate that complex occasion than by expressing my gratitude to a handful of the many indigenous voices and communities that have helped me better remember and understand Native American histories and stories.
1) Linda Coombs: I’ve had the chance to work with and learn from Linda since the 2011 New England American Studies Association Conference at Plymouth Plantation, and am still learning from her through our work together on America the Atlas this year. In my experience, there’s no voice, historian, scholar, activist, and community member who has more to tell us about the histories, identities, and ongoing story of the Wampanoag than Linda.
2) The Aquinnah Cultural Center: While Linda lives and works in the Cape Cod indigenous community of Mashpee (on which more in a moment), she is a member of the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe of Martha’s Vineyard, and has worked quite a bit over the years at the tribe’s Aquinnah Cultural Center (also known as the Aquinnah Wampanoag Indian Museum, and located near the historic Gay Head cliffs and lighthouse). I don’t know any space, in-person or online, that has more to tell us about the tribes and their histories and culture.
3) Dawnland Voices: Much of what I’d want to say about the wonderful Dawnland Voices anthology (now also an evolving website) was said by my friend and the project’s editor Siobhan Senier in that hyperlinked Guest Post. It can feel at times difficult to connect with the voices and perspectives of pre-contact indigenous communities (including the Wampanoag), in part because much of what was published for many centuries came from (or at the very least was filtered by) European American arrivals and cultures. But Dawnland Voices has helped change all that, and as a result is a truly must-read text and collection of voices.
4) The Wampanoag Homesite: After a few years when I spent quite a bit of time at and around that Plimoth Plantation (now renamed Plimoth Patuxet), both because of my 2011 NEASA Conference and because both boys went there on 4th grade field trips, I haven’t had the chance to get down there in a while (not since the renaming, in fact). So I’m not sure whether and how they’ve continued to develop my favorite element, the Wampanoag Homesite. But I sure hope that visitors (post-COVID, at least) can continue to learn from the indigenous performers and historians who share Wampanoag and other cultural and communal histories, information, and present realities at that vital interpretative space.
5) Mashpee: I’ve written a lot, in this space and elsewhere, about the complex and vital histories of the Mashpee community, as well as their ongoing 21st century battle for sovereignty and survival. It’s that final subject that I want to emphasize once more here: the Mashpee Wampanoag, like the Aquinnah Wampanoag and every other indigenous tribe and nation, are entirely present in our 21st century American society, in its political and social divisions and debates, and in our overarching identity and community. All the more reason to listen to and learn from these voices and resources.
May you all have a restful, rejuvenative, and thoughtful Thanksgiving holiday! November Recap this weekend,
PS. Other indigenous voices you’d share?