Earl Mills, Jr., is a Wampanoag tribal member and singer in Mashpee. In 1976, rising tensions between law enforcement and native people in that town came to a head after a three-day feast and celebration on Wampanoag tribal land. Police arrested nine men, including Mills. They claimed that the men were disturbing the peace by drumming and singing into the night.
The incident galvanized Mills, already a rising activist within the American Indian Movement, to keep fighting for Indian rights—and to keep singing as he did. This fall, forty-two years later, the Wampanoag tribe in Mashpee became engaged in a complicated legal battle with the federal government over the rights to their own tribal land. With every reason to feel hopeless, Mills still finds things to be thankful for, and he says singing is a large part of that.
The events of 1976 are chronicled in Paula Peter’s book, Mashpee Nine: A Story of Cultural Injustice and an accompanying documentary.
This piece came to us from our production partners at Atlantic Public Media through their media training program, The Transom Story Workshop in Woods Hole. Jessica is a graduate of the workshop. You can find out more about that program at www.transom.org.
Ways of Life is edited by jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media and made possible by the Circle of Ten -ten local businesses and organizations committed to local programming on WCAI.