Thursday, May 19, 2011
“Our land and our culture are the reasons I live.”
This sentiment by Annawon Weeden, Mashpee Wampanoag, set the tone for a celebration of Wampanoag culture at Cape Cod National Seashore held on May 14th. The event was part of the national seashore’s 50th anniversary celebration.
During the event, national seashore and tribal officials dedicated new visitor center exhibits, Wampanoag artists demonstrated weaving, pottery, and wood and soapstone carving, and the Wampanoag Nation Singers and Dancers, a group that includes members of Aquinnah, Mashpee, and Herring Pond tribal communities, presented an interactive dance program.
Two exhibits have been added to Salt Pond Visitor Center. A map-based exhibit, “A Great Arm in the Sea,” interprets how Cape Cod’s location within the Gulf of Maine ecosystem has influenced habitats, species diversity, and human settlement. “People of the First Light” was made possible by retrofitting a section of the museum. It communicates aspects of Wampanoag culture and history, conveying that native people have a long legacy on Cape Cod that continues today. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) are federally-recognized.
Superintendent George Price welcomed about 150 visitors to the dedication ceremony, expressing how important the exhibits are to the approximately 400,000 people who visit Salt Pond each year. The story of native people had been absent from the museum, which Price noted as a major omission. Sue Moynihan, chief of interpretation and cultural resources management, explained the interpretive value of the exhibits, and acknowledged the staff team that participated in the project and the Mashpee and Aquinnah Wampanoag tribal members who consulted, provided oral histories, and produced pottery, woven containers, a wetu (home), and paintings for exhibit.
Vernon “Silent Drum” Lopez, chief of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, remarked on his people’s connection to the land and their legacy on Cape Cod. Jim Peters, executive director for the Commission on Indian Affairs, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, was also in attendance and participated in the dance performance. Following the dedication, visitors and guests browsed through the museum and engaged in conversation and hands-on activities with Wampanoag artists.
The Wampanoag Nation Singers and Dancers stepped off at 1 p.m. for a lively and engaging program that had more than 200 visitors participating in traditional Wampanoag social dances. The day concluded with a gathering of people who remembered the Carns Site archeological investigation and a sharing of their recollections with the public. The undisturbed site was discovered eroding along the Atlantic shoreline in Eastham in November, 1990. A major excavation ensued through the following 16 months to document the site. Research results date the site to between 2,100 and 1,100 years ago, and significantly expanded understanding of this time period.
The day-long event was the culmination of three years of exhibit planning and development, and has set the stage for future collaborations with our Wampanoag neighbors.