Cape Cod Camino Way Week 7 BLOG: Wellfleet to Truro, 12 miles (Hills!)
Cultural Influences/The Arts and BIPOC; Resources for continued learning
Week 7- only two more walks to go in the Summer of 2020. This week 9 others joined the beginning of the walk on Lecount Hollow Road in Wellfleet to the center of town via Ocean View Drive. This week we chose to focus on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in the arts and on current issues.
We began with introductions and setting an intention for our participation in the walk. We honored the Native people and lands we would walk, being reminded that all of Cape Cod once belonged to the Wampanoag. This week Lauren was back for week 7, Kathy, Kate, Lucy and Candace joined for the first time and returners included my sister Marie, Wilderness and Saffron, and Licia. I am so blessed to have these women join in the walk and more importantly in the conversation and learning experience.
This week I prepared the container, with some research and historical information. And others contributed inspirations from writers and poets of color, visual artists and we discussed musicians of color. We first acknowledged the selection of Kamala Harris, the first Black and Indian woman to run for Vice President of the United States. We also highlighted the outstanding speech by Michelle Obama at the Democratic Convention. Regardless of party, we were excited to see these women shine in our political process.
I began our experience by sharing a powerful poem by my sister-in-law’s sister, Nikkie, a Trinidadian born poet and musician.
BLACK By Nikkiesha McLeod
We’re at the same juncture where Black people are met with the same struggle, one which seems to never end. We’re still fighting for our lives to matter. We still can’t breathe as the knees of oppression bends into our necks, killing us. We’ve peacefully marched, we’ve walked with our anger boiling beneath our rich and beautiful skin, but yet this ugly history of us being beaten down, being hosed down still continues today. A reflection of us standing up against the fences, the faces of an established denial of my place in the world, where I dream as much as you do. I wish to sing my troubles. But it is the same tune. What else is there for us to say out loud, write down and shout, We shall over come… Should I tell the next generation it’s up to them now, to carry this anger, this despair, this anxiety of living outside, while I can’t even escape it myself? My life is ordinary like the songs of any bird-call voicing an incandescent sound, but because of the hatred of my existence I am martyred for my race, for my color: Black!
Black is the beauty
of the night forever and ever
Black is what brings light.
I noted that I returned to the Atwood Museum Exhibit (from week 5) that focused on the Wampanoag and Mayflower stories- where they connected and the impact on each other. The Atwood included a new room on WWII and I noticed a Black woman as “Rosie the Riveter”, something I had never seen before, and Sugar rationing line that included white boys, and black and white women. It is rare to see images of Black people on the walls of Cape Cod museums and I thanked the curator of the exhibit.
I mentioned to the group there is a special Wampanoag exhibit of “Before 1620 Who Was Here” at the Wellfleet Historical Society and Museum, Wed-Sat 1-4pm at 258 Main St. This would be an option for those leaving the walk mid-day in Wellfleet. Through numerous artifacts, the exhibit acknowledges the native presence back to 10,000 BCE and questions stereotypes, examining the past through some unusual lenses. We spoke of the Pilgrims landing in Truro at Pilgrim Spring area in search of drinking water, coming ashore at Corn Hill to steal native corn, and skirmishing with the Wampanoags at First Encounter Beach in Eastham. No, Plymouth Rock is NOT the first place the Pilgrims stepped foot in America.
At White Crest Beach on the Atlantic Shore in Wellfleet, Wilderness shared a deeply impactful poem by Lucille Clifton:
won’t you celebrate with me
won’t you celebrate with me
what Ihave shaped into
a king of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did I see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.
We continued walking with a sense of heaviness about the lives lost to systemic racism, violence that continues to play out on a regular basis. Violence we all agree must stop.
At the Beachcomber, eerily quiet in the bluff down below us, hanging by a thread above the great ocean, Kate shared her brilliant voice with us with a poem from The Woman Who Fell From the Sky by Joy Harjo, our poet laureate. Harjo is an internationally renowned performer and writer of the Muscogee Creek Nation.
At our next stop at Great Pond, Saffron shared with us a few visual artists she has been exploring. She spoke about each artist and then shared her phone with images of their work. With a good spray of hand sanitizer, we passed the phone to each person who was drawn into the images. We spoke how art is such a powerful tool through which to learn about and connect with cultures other than our own. We have greatly enjoyed connecting with Saffron who at 14 has a depth of knowledge and understanding that touched us deeply.
Shirin Neshat is an Iranian visual artist who lives in NY city. Her artwork centers on the contrasts between Islam and the West, femininity and masculinity, public life and private life, antiquity and modernity. The contrast in the Arabic words on the faces and hands of the women were striking to behold.
Aaqil Ka is based in Brooklyn NY and is inspired by nature, culture, technology, social issues. Saffron was taken by his images and enjoyed sharing them with her fellow walkers.
We continued to Wellfleet Center, crossing Route 6 at the traffic light, still a very dangerous proposition. One thing we have seen in each town along our journey is a lack of attention to safety and access via our road system. In many places, there are no sidewalks, causing us to use extreme caution in unsafe conditions. In others, the sidewalks are so overgrown and in poor condition, that walking is still treacherous. It was my observation that people drive too fast on all our roadways, and barely give way for pedestrians. I will think about my own actions as a driver a bit differently having done these walks all summer.
We rested and enjoyed a conversation at Preservation Hall garden in Wellfleet Center. As several people would be leaving the walk here, we shared something we were taking away from today’s experience:
“ I’m going to think about the ugly history referenced in the poem- what are our monuments?”
“I was aware of my privilege to walk freely, with the walk reminding me of being at Standing Rock three years ago, and returning to the Cape with more awareness that all Land in the U.S. was homeland of the Indigenous people.”
“I’m honored to be with people looking at our history, sharing stories: What does celebrating 400 mean?”
“I was so glad to see the visual arts today, remember Freda Kahlo, and acknowledge a friend I lost recently by sharing a poem on her land with everyone”.
“I was reminded about the suffrage movement, how that is tainted too with the story of whiteness. In order to celebrate the suffragettes, we have to recognize that Black women were excluded”.
“Sharing the poems today, listening to the readings and perspectives was powerful. Just walking with all of you. “
Kate then quoted Mary Oliver’s poem Heron by heart and inspired us to explore more of Oliver’s lovely poetry about nature on Cape Cod.
Preservation Hall in Wellfleet upcoming events:
Weed 8/26 at 6 Suzanne Nossel, author of Dare to Speak. CEO of PEN America, the foremost organization working to protect and advance human rights, free expression and literature.
Doc Days Film Series Jazz on a Summer’s Day, virtually as of Fri 8/14
Also locally is the Payomet Performing Arts Center, Truro. Mission: Foster education and excellence in the performing arts; Cultivate cultural and social awareness; explore issues of relevance to the communities we serve.
At a rest stop on the back road hills of Truro, I shared some local historical information with Kate and Lauren, for when we could return and do more exploration.
Wampanoag Indian Woman Memorial📷 📷
The memorial is positioned horizontal on the ground. It is adjacent to the National Seashore parking lot at the entrance to Great Island.
The left photo was taken in 2008 and the right photo in 2010. The photos were supplied by Heather Lagerstrom. Note the increase in the “gifts of respect”.
The fascinating story of Billingsgate Island (from the Wellfleet Historical Society).
“…Today, all that remains of Billingsgate Island is an occasional sandbar a few miles off Wellfleet’s Jeremy Point. But that’s not to say Cape Cod’s ‘mini Atlantis’ has disappeared from the local consciousness. In this article, we look at the history of the island and the people who lived there and examine the efforts many have made to keep Billingsgate’s memory—and legend—alive.
When the Pilgrims arrived in the region in 1620, the town of Billingsgate (which at the time included Eastham and Wellfleet—and the 60-acre island) was home to the Punonakanit people—members of the Wampanoag Federation. In Of Plimoth Plantation, Mayflower scribe William Bradford describes the island as “a tongue of land, being flat, off from the shore, with a sandy point.” According to A History Of Billingsgate by Durand Echeverria, the Native Americans and the Europeans who settled in the Billingsgate community coexisted peacefully until smallpox eventually shrunk the Billingsgate Punonakanit population to just 11 in 1694.
Originally settled by the Europeans as a fishing village, the island was most likely named after the famous Billingsgate fishing market of London. Over time, fishermen living in Wellfleet and Eastham brought their families onto the island where they would fish from early spring to the start of winter.”
Who “originally settled” the land? Who brought the smallpox that almost wiped out the native population? We need to read these historical accounts carefully
I neglected to share the current information below with the walkers, and wanted to include it for the readers of the blog to understand issues of recognition continue for the Wampanoag.
From the Barnstable Human Rights Commission website:
BARNSTABLE COUNTY HUMAN RIGHTS ADVISORY COMMISSION SUPPORTS THE MASHPEE WAMPANOAG TRIBE (Barnstable, MA – May 4, 2020) – The Barnstable County Human Rights Advisory Commission (HRAC) supports Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in action against Department of Interior. The Human Rights Advisory Commission of Barnstable County, out of respect for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and the long, traumatic history they endured, express our extreme displeasure with the Department of Interior’s recent decision denying the Tribe’s right to hold land in trust. At a time when we are collectively sharing significant challenges and together experiencing a period of tremendous hardship, the HRAC hopes that the Department focuses on the immense value of the Tribe and work to ensure a path of cooperation and respect. 2020 is the year that we commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage and the founding of Plymouth Colony. This history cannot be told without honoring the immense contribution of the Wampanoag people that are still among us. Thus, we urge the Department to initiate a complete review of the denial and engage in the process of reconsideration that accounts for the full history of this great Tribe. Fairness dictates no other course of action.
ABOUT THE BARNSTABLE COUNTY HUMAN RIGHTS ADVISORY COMMISSION: The mission of the Human Rights Advisory Commission is to promote equal opportunity for all persons of Barnstable County regardless of race, color, religious creed, national origin, gender, age, ancestry, sexual or affectional preference marital, family or military status, source of income, neighborhood or disability, where unlawful discrimination exists in housing, employment, education, public accommodations, town or county services, insurance, banking, credit and health care.
At the end of our hike at the Pamet River Park in Truro, Kate shared one last poem from Joy Harjo that provided the “dessert” for our long day of walking.
Perhaps the World Ends Here by Joy Harjo
The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.
Postscript: I wanted to note that many of our local nonprofits have been issuing statements of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Here are a few related to places on our walk today:
The Truro Historical Society (THS) supports the peaceful Black Lives Matter movement for racial justice that is taking place in the United States and around the world. “Liberty and justice for all” means justice for Black and Indigenous populations, and for all people of color.
Museums and archives are not neutral spaces. Because we interpret history, we have the responsibility of presenting the past as fully and accurately as possible, including painful and uncomfortable aspects. The past feeds into the present, and when a community actively engages with its past, it can use its understanding to make a better society.
Truro was founded on land that had been inhabited by Native People for thousands of years, but these people were displaced by English settlers. There were enslaved people and indentured laborers enduring near-slavery conditions in Truro. In 1754, the town’s first minister, Reverend John Avery, bequeathed to his children three African-American enslaved men and “my Indian Girl Sarah.”
After reflecting on the “settler privilege” that most of us enjoy, the THS decided in late 2019 to mark the 400thanniversary of the Pilgrims’ arrival with a decolonial exhibition celebrating Truro’s first inhabitants, the Wampanoag Nation, from its origins to today. During the postponement caused by the coronavirus, the THS will continue to consult with Indigenous scholars and community members. We will increase our commitment to diversity and inclusion. As a token of our commitment, the THS wishes to share the Land Acknowledgment we have prepared in consultation with members of the Wampanoag Nation. This statement will stand at the entrance to the Highland House Museum’s permanent exhibition about the Paomet and the Wampanoag peoples.
Land Acknowledgment
The Highland House Museum stands on the traditional homeland of the Paomet Tribe, members of the Wampanoag Nation, who have inhabited Cape Cod for more than 12,000 years and who knew this part of Truro as Tashmuit. The Truro Historical Society acknowledges the displacement, suffering, and forced assimilation of the Wampanoag and other Native Peoples caused by European contact and colonization. We honor the struggles of the Wampanoag, People of the First Light, and support their resilience, and we ask museum visitors to reflect on our shared responsibility to maintain social justice.
From The Board and Staff of the Truro Center for the Arts
To Our Valued Community:
George Floyd was murdered more than a month ago and it feels like the world has shifted seismically since then, finally acknowledging the persistence of the cruel racial and economic disparities that blight our country. The Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill counts inclusivity as a core value but we have not achieved the diversity to which we aspire. Our Board and Staff welcome this moment of historical change and the opportunity it presents to examine ourselves and make the changes necessary to create an arts community that welcomes, serves and nurtures Black, Asian, LatinX and all Indigenous artists.
We strive to create an environment that encourages artists of all types and experiences, but we clearly still have far to go. We will begin by immediately establishing a committee of board members, staff and faculty and giving them a charge to examine our practices to identify instances of implicit bias and ways in which we operate that may discourage broader participation. They will recommend changes needed to remove obstacles and things we must do proactively to extend our hand to engage actively with under-represented communities. We will examine our leadership, our partnerships and our programs to find ways to do better. We aim to do this as soon as we possibly can.
We stand in support of those who have dedicated themselves to the struggle for racial and economic justice. We commit to doing our part.