Towns: Mashpee, Cotuit, Centerville, Osterville, Marstons Mills, Barnstable, Hyannis, 14 miles
This walk was the most difficult to map out due to the road system and lack of sidewalks along the way. For about 4 miles, we walked on busy streets, in the rain, with no sidewalks and cars and trucks whizzing by us leaving a trail of mist and road dirt. Lauren and I stopped to consider that our route today was a symbol of what has been experienced by of people of color and Native Americans for generations: always facing a head wind, a storm, an uphill climb. We used the analogy to brace ourselves and continue to make progress over our 14 mile route.
We began the day in the sun at the Mashpee Wampanoag Museum, which was closed, but provided a perfect setting out back with a canoe and wetu that provided the setting for us to talk about the People of the First Light. In the wetu, we saw how the natives lived on and from the land, using bark of elm trees for “shingles” on their circular home. Inside we found the remnants of a fire, and a few quahog shells. I chose the quahog or clam shell to represent the Camino Way, as the Wampanoags used the quahog for food, as wampum, or beads for trading, and for jewelry. Just like the Camino Way in Spain, we have a shell to represent the Cape Cod Camino Way.
The Wampanoags have occupied the same region in the Northeast for over 12,000 years and have faced the diminishment of their homelands since colonization. The Mashpee tribe currently has approximately 2600 enrolled citizens. Today the Wampanoag Tribe is seeking action by Congress to protect their homelands and designation as a federal tribe which has been threatened by the Bureau of Indian Affairs under the Trump administration.
A few facts that we considered that morning:
  • Before the Pilgrims arrived, traders from Europe brought yellow fever to the Northeast coast and 2/3 of the Wampanoag nation (estimated at 45,000) died.
  • When the colonists, the Pilgrims landed on Cape Cod in 1620, the Wampanoags were settled in Southeastern MA, the Cape, Eastern Rhode Island and Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
  • In 1655 Harvard opened the Indian College to educate Indian youth and convert them to Christianity.
  • In 1675 over 40% of the tribal population was killed in King Phillips War (between the colonists and the Native Americans) and large numbers of healthy males were sold into slavery. Some women and children were also enslaved by colonists in New England.
  • In 1685 Plymouth Colony confirmed a deed to tribal leaders of 25 square miles of land and subsequently appoints guardians to limit the Tribe’s independence. Ironically, the King of England sided with the Tribe and Mashpee is recognized as a self-governing Indian District.
  • In the Boston Massacre in 1770 Crispus Attucks, a Wampanoag is killed. Many Wampanoags fight in the American Revolution on behalf of independence.
  • By the mid 1800s the Massachusetts legislature revokes the Tribe’s governing authority, and in 1869 members of the Tribe are made citizens of the state. In 1870 the MA Legislature conveys 5000 acres in tribal ownership to create the town of Mashpee.
  • The Wampanoags cultivated varieties of the “three sisters” (Maize or corn, beans, and squash) as the staples of their diet, with fish and game as supplements. They had a matrilineal system, in which women controlled property and hereditary status was passed through the maternal line. They were also matrifocal, meaning a married couple went to live with the woman’s family. Women elders approved the selection of chiefs or sachems. Women had socio-political, economic and spiritual roles in their communities.
As Marie and Lauren and I reflected on this history that we had heard little of in the past, we were reminded that “victors tell the story”. We don’t know that the first peoples in these united states were matrilineal- it would take generations for women to be able to inherit money or property under the democratic republic that the Europeans established. Where would we be if women held a more equal role in the new republic? If women were true partners in the democracy? Where would we be if we shared the land with the Wampanoags instead of taking by force or coercion what was not our ancestors to take? What do we still owe the First Peoples?
Lauren and I walked on in the rain that had started, following Rt 130, a main road with lots of traffic driving too fast in the rain. We were splattered with road grime and the mist clouded her glasses. After a stop under the awning at the Cotuit Center for the Arts, we spoke about what is in our art museums on Cape Cod. How much art truly reflects who was here, or is currently here? The Cotuit Center in “normal” years offers a range of programming and provides music, theater and visual arts in several towns including underserved, low-income and at risk youth. As the Center plans to reopen soon, we hope they take this opportunity to expand their thinking around what themes are presented in the Center, what stories are told, and incorporate voices of Indigenous and People of Color. As we passed the Cahoon Museum we also questioned the bright blue paint on the trees out front- how can they breathe? As we just saw how the Wampanoag used the trees for their homes, and treated nature with respect, it seemed incongruous to us that someone would paint the trees.
Our gathering point at the Armstrong Kelly park brought additional walkers and a rest stop to feature a tribute to John Lewis, civil rights legend who passed away this week. Two poignant quotes from Mr. Lewis:
“You are a light. Never let anyone- any person or any force- dampen, dim or diminish your light. Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge. Release all bitterness. Hold only love, and peace in your heart, knowing that the battle of good to overcome evil is already won.”
“Ours is not the struggle of one day, one week, or one year. Ours is not the struggle of one judicial appointment or presidential term. Ours is the struggle of a lifetime, or maybe even many lifetimes, and each one of us in every generation must do our part.”
We read a poem by Nikkie McLeod, my sister in law’s sister, a Black poet and musician in NY City who was with us in spirit. We walked on to Craigville beach with conversations between the various group members, including my 6 year-old niece. We supported each other’s quest for engagement with the place we were walking and the people we were with. We walked by some of the most expensive real estate on the Cape, mansions and acres of property abutting Nantucket Sound, cared for by an army of landscapers and caretakers.
At one point we stopped in a driveway to allow some members to take a break. A landscaper from across the street ventured over and asked what we were doing? There we were a group of five white women, one white man, one Black woman and her biracial child. Why was someone crossing the street to ask us what we were doing there? Did he want to provide us directions or assistance? Three of us had on the purple Cape Cod Camino Way tee shirt. We looked like a walking group. I thought it was “no big deal”. My brother questioned his motive on behalf of the group, and his wife. They are used to being questioned. They are used to being seen as “different”. I walked on in silence thinking about what just happened and how it impacted him and my sister in law differently than me.
Stopping at the beach to refresh and pick up another walker, Linda, we made our way for the next 3 miles into Hyannis. For the first time on our walk we saw a few Black Lives Matter signs. What did this mean? Why had we not seen them through some of the other towns? Why did we see Ron Beatty signs back in Mastons Mills with BLM spray painted on them? The level of discourse in our country, and even here on Cape Cod, is fractured and angry in tone. When is anger justified? When is civil disobedience?
The final stop on Walk 3 was the highlight of the day: the Zion Heritage Museum tour with John Reed, the Executive Director, Pamela Chatterton-Purdy creator of the Icons of the Civil Rights Movement, and David Purdy, Board Member. Our group of walkers were provided a history of the founding of the Museum and the story behind the creation of the Icons, including current icon of Travon Martin. John’s stories of the experiences of people of color on Cape Cod, in particular in the Hyannis area were poignant, mirroring the same issues we read about daily in the national news. Blacks being stopped for no reason by the police. Blacks being followed in stores. Blacks not being on Rt 6A after dark. Issues of justice, economics, health care.
Pamela’s personal story was moving, a white couple with biracial and black children. We were curious about a connection to the current BLM movement, the current struggles playing out across the country. What inspired her to use a traditional medium to portray 40 people and events of importance in Black history and civil rights? I was grateful for her presence and willingness to speak with us 1-1 and tell the stories of the Icons.
I was drawn again to the art of resident artist Robin Joyce Miller who chronicles the life of African Americans from slavery, the “Middle Passage” to the inauguration of Barak Obama. Her use of a traditional medium of quilting creates a beautiful tapestry for story-telling. Her artwork of Langston Hughes poetry is stunning. I want to know more. I encourage everyone to tour this gem in Hyannis and learn more of the culture and story of our people of color on this peninsula.
What inspires us to continue to learn the story of people of color on Cape Cod? I ask each of us to answer that question and follow this journey by joining a walk if you can, even for a mile or two, or follow this Facebook page and blog each week to hear about the issues and resources available right here on Cape Cod. Join us each Saturday morning at 9 for a Facebook Live chat about our week’s learning. These walks are proving to be an inspiration for me, as well as a prod for further exploration and action.
Note: My sister Marie provided the logistical support to our walkers today: My brother, Steve and sister in law Jillian, niece Laurel, Friends Lauren, Linda and Wilderness, and joining us at the Zion Museum, Lilli Feronti and Kathleen Schatzberg. A hearty group, with Lauren along for the third time, and braving the rain for over an hour on a busy stretch of Rt 130 and 28. Thanks to everyone who participated and made this a special day for our family!