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Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Chairman: Indigenous Peoples' Day is 'Essential'

Indigenous Peoples' Day is October 10, 2022.
Indigenous Peoples' Day is October 10, 2022.

This month, some communities across Massachusetts will celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, replacing the controversial honor of Christopher Columbus on the second Monday in October.

CAI’s Kathryn Eident talked with Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Chairman Brian Weeden about what Indigenous Peoples’ Day means to him. The conversation is part of a new monthly series with the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.

Eident Why is it essential that we celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day and not Columbus Day?

Weeden I think it's essential because of the simple fact of the matter is our nation's history has always been one-sided. You never heard the Indigenous peoples' perspective because we're oral people and we have oral traditions. A lot of our oral traditions tell us that Columbus was not such a friend to the Indigenous people in South America. And then as he moved his way up here to North America, or Turtle Island, that's one of the biggest misconceptions today is the fact that people refer to Indigenous people as Indians, because he thought that he was in India and he came looking for gold.

If you read some of his missionary accounts, some of the things that he and his men did were very brutal and tragic. There were massacres that were done. They talked about some of his men ripping babies off of their mother's breast and throwing them in the air for target practice. People who do that and inflict that kind of pain I don't think should be honored or recognized.

Eident A few years ago, in 2019, the town of Mashpee adopted Indigenous Peoples' Day. From your perspective, did this feel symbolic or did real change follow that action?

Weeden I think that the town of Mashpee has a unique history outside of all the other towns here on the Cape, because it was an Indian plantation and reservation until the state and the Commonwealth forced citizenship upon our tribal citizens against the will of the Tribe in 1870.

Since then, Wampanoags have held office and have maintained the town until the seventies when we started to enforce our land. There was a lot of tension between the tribe and the town. A lot of things were happening, such as the Mashpee Nine case, on which there's a book that one of our tribal members wrote about. And the police brutality that also happened with David Hendricks, who was a tribal member that was actually shot because he was on a high-speed chase, and they decided to kill him in front of tribal members.

So, there's been a lot of issues here between the town and the Tribe. I think that this is definitely a start in the right direction, but there's a lot of other issues that the town needs to work out, such as water quality. And that's why the Tribe sued the town back in the seventies because of the simple fact that they were over-developing, and they had no processing system. Now the town wants to talk about sewering; we're a day late and a dollar short.

So, The tribe recognized Indigenous People's Day in 2017. Also, the Mashpee Public Schools and the Mashpee School Committee also approved Indigenous Peoples' Day in August of 2019, prior to town meeting in May that we worked on to approve the new town seal and also Indigenous Peoples' Day town wide.

Eident So a small step, but a step in the right direction, given some tension, as you mentioned, between the town and the tribe.

Weeden Yes.

Eident Does it bother you that there is a lot of attention around native peoples for Indigenous Peoples' Day and then Thanksgiving, especially for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe? But then, perhaps there's less attention given to tribe issues and needs for the rest of the year.

Weeden Yeah. When we talk about some of the events, it's more about all of us as Indigenous people. There are over 500 federally recognized tribes within Turtle Island, the United States. We have Indigenous people scattered throughout South America. Even the First Nations people in Canada.

You know, people have silenced the Indigenous people's voice for so long. And we look at all these other races and how they've gotten together and organized. It seems like they're getting a lot more restitution and recognition than the Indigenous people that were here and paid the ultimate sacrifice for it.

So, when we talk about Indigenous Peoples' Day or Thanksgiving, it doesn't just pertain to just us. You know, there's other tribes out there that are fighting fights on a daily basis.

And one thing about us as Indigenous people and traditional people is we don't pick one day to celebrate something or to mourn or to have a ceremony. That happens continuously all year round. That's the meaning of Thanksgiving. Every day you wake up is another opportunity for you to thank the creator and your ancestors, that you're here and you're here for whatever mission you're supposed to be doing because we all have different gifts in our lives, and it's important that we give our gifts and use our gifts to the best ability we can.

Eident And so as Indigenous Peoples' Day arrives, what will you be doing that day?

Weeden On that particular day, I'll be attending the Indigenous People's Day event in Newton, Massachusetts. I'll be there with our drum group, The Eastern Suns Drummers, where a drum group that drums around the powwow circuit and our various socials and gatherings.

October 10th kicks off the United South and Eastern Tribes, which is USET. USET is a conference. And there's all the tribes that are federally recognized on the Eastern Seaboard that will be attending, and it'll be the first conference that we'll be having in person. So, there'll be a lot of tribal leaders doing various events on October 10th out at Foxwoods, Mashantucket Pequot Reservation.

Eident Well, Chairman Brian Weeden of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, thank you for taking a few minutes to talk with us about Indigenous Peoples' Day and and what it means to you and to other Indigenous peoples.

Weeden Kutâputush; thank you.

Local News Heard on CAI's Morning EditionNative American
Kathryn Eident was the Morning Edition Host and Senior Producer of News until November 2022.