Week 1 – Introducing the Key Concepts

During the first week of the institute, we will introduce the five key concepts in context. The first concept is that Native American histories are grounded in specific places. On Monday, July 17, we will walk through cultural landscapes of the Wampanoag people on Martha’s Vineyard, learning about geology, creation stories, history, and current issues. Prior to their arrival, the Summer Scholars will read Thomas Dresser’s book, The Wampanoag: From Colonization to Recognition (2011) in its entirety. This is a good example of responsible scholarship by a non-Native author who consulted with tribal experts. It will prepare the group for our exploration of Wampanoag places on Martha’s Vineyard as it includes a chapter on the sites we will visit and offers a solid overview of Wampanoag culture and history. The day concludes with dinner at the Tribal offices or a similar venue, followed by a presentation by Byron Stone, a Research Geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey who will discuss the exciting finds made when the lighthouse at Gay Head (Aquinnah) was moved in Summer 2015.

The second concept is identity. Identity is one of those words whose meaning seems obvious but in fact varies in different contexts. On Tuesday, July 18, we will focus on representation, including stereotypes and the use of Native Americans as mascots, and in regard to questions about who is (or is not) an “Indian.” For the latter, we will discuss the differences between heritage, ancestry, self-identification, and tribal citizenship. We will read an essay by James Clifford called “Identity in Mashpee,” about a 1970s trial in which the Mashpee Wampanoag were asked to prove their identity to a non-Native jury. In the 1980s, students from UMass Amherst made a film about the trial (The Mashpee Conflict) that includes interviews with key players on both sides. This film was never distributed and is little known in Mashpee, so we will have an evening showing of the film in Mashpee followed by a community discussion.

The third concept is land. On Wednesday, July 19, we will discuss Wampanoag creation stories (including excerpts from William Simmons’ collection, Spirit of the New England Tribes), subsistence patterns, and a consideration of the economic and legal mechanisms by which English colonists claimed land. Guest presenter jessie little doe baird (Mashpee Wampanoag), linguist and Vice Chair of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, will discuss her work with Wôpanaak, for which she won a MacArthur genius award in 2010. Baird’s work makes it clear that language, land and identity are closely linked.  In the afternoon, we will discuss Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative as a primary source for Wampanoag as well as English history. The guest presenter, Lisa Brooks (Abenaki), Professor of English and American Studies at Amherst College, is the author of The Common Pot: The Recovery of Native Space in the Northeast (2008) and the forthcoming book, The Queen’s Right, the Printer’s Revolt, and the Place of Peace.

The fourth concept is historical trauma. This is a relatively new concept in the field of Indigenous Studies, offering a critical perspective on the relationship between present-day social concerns such as addiction and high rates of suicide, especially among Native American youth, and History – both history-as-lived and what it means for Native Americans to have their histories erased or denied by mainstream society. Examples of denial and erasure include stereotypes, as discussed earlier in the week, and in the lack of positive representation in children’s books, as will be discussed below. We will read an essay by Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart, the mental health expert whose work on historical trauma among her own people, the Lakota, provides a framework for examining historical trauma among other groups.

Historical trauma will be on our minds on Thursday, July 20, as we visit Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum that includes a Pilgrim village and a Wampanoag homesite. In the three years prior to the landing of the Mayflower in 1620, epidemic diseases brought by Europeans wiped out 60 to 90% of the local Wampanoag population. This context is critical for understanding Wampanoag responses to the Pilgrims. The Summer Scholars will have time to explore on their own in addition to guided activities. They will gain a unique perspective on the history of the museum because Institute co-director Linda Coombs worked there for over thirty years and played a key role in the development of the Wampanoag Indigenous Program. After an informative and delicious lunch of historically-researched Wampanoag foods from the 17th century, we will meet in a seminar room at the museum to discuss strategies for teaching about Thanksgiving as well as current planning for the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower in 1620. By this time, the Summer Scholars will understand that the search for a “more accurate” version of the “first Thanksgiving” may not be the most useful question. Instead, we might ask, who gets to tell the story? What kinds of sources are used, or not? Whose voices are included and what exactly does that mean? How are Native American students impacted when asked to dress up as Pilgrims, or when their history classes say little or nothing about the ongoing impact of colonization on Native American communities?

The fifth concept is that (re)evaluating classroom resources is a skill that can be learned. Friday, July 21, will begin with a discussion of Jean O’Brien’s work on New England town histories and how these ubiquitous sources construct an ideology of “Indian disappearance” that persists to this day. Guest presenter Debbie Reese (Nambe Pueblo), a nationally recognized expert on American Indians in Children’s Literature through her blog of the same name, will discuss how to evaluate classroom materials, including children’s books, folk tales, and popular books such as Caleb’s Crossing and Little House on the Prairie. We will end the day with a discussion of films commonly used in the classroom, as well as alternative resources.