By Theresa Knapp
On Oct. 13, Medway Public Library was one of several libraries to co-sponsor a virtual presentation called “The Forgotten Nations: Native Tribes of New England.”
“Colonization happened early on in the New England area, as early as 1609, so many Native Nations and tribal histories were lost,” said Robert Hayes of the Tewksbury Public Library as he introduced speaker Heather Bruegl.
Bruegl is an independent indigenous consultant, historian, decolonization educator, and former director of the Forge Project, a Native-led initiative centered on Indigenous art, decolonial education, and supporting leaders in culture, food security, and land justice. She is a citizen of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin (part of the now-disbanded Haudenosaunee Confederacy) and a first-line descendant of the Stockbridge-Munsee Community (also known as the Mohican Nation Stockbridge–Munsee Band).
The presentation focused on “what has been historically defined as ‘New England’ which would be the colonies that were founded by the English” said Bruegl, who featured the Wampanoag, the People of the First Light.
There are two federally recognized Wampanoag tribes in Massachusetts (and eastern Rhode Island) including the Mashpee and the Aquinnah (aka Gay Head). They are Algonquin-speaking tribes.
“Early contact with the Wampanoag dates back to the early 16th century when merchant vessels would travel along the coast,” she said, adding “From the years 1615 to 1619, long episodes of smallpox and other diseases ripped through the Wampanoag Nation and decimated the population.”
Bruegl told the stories of Squanto and Massasoit, a Peace Agreement, an agreement in which the Wampanoags agreed to give up their firearms, and King Phillip’s War between the Wampanoag and the Colonists.
In March 1621, the Wampanoag formally greeted the Pilgrims, three months after they landed in Plymouth in Dec. 1620.
“In October of 1621, Massasoit invited the Pilgrims to join in the Wampanoag Harvest Ceremony, this helps lead to the myth of why ‘Thanksgiving’ is celebrated today…This is where, in popular culture, you see that story start to come up,” said Bruegl, who reminded attendees that November is Native American Heritage Month and encouraged people to “do some reading on your own to find out more about what really went on at that first 'Thanksgiving' ceremony.”
Medway Public Library Director Margaret Perkins said the presentation was very interesting and informative.
“For those who attended Medway’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day event on Oct. 15th, ‘The Forgotten Nations’ program was also a good complement to Thomas Green’s presentation. Thomas Green is the Vice President of the Massachusett Tribal Council at Ponkapoag. Though both talks addressed the history of the Indigenous Peoples of New England, there was little overlap since the topic is so broad,” said Perkins.
Perkins said the MPL participated in offering the program “to provide access to the history of the Indigenous Peoples of this area, history that has often not been thoroughly covered in school curricula, particularly for those of us who have been out of school for quite a while. It is rare for students or adults to have the opportunity to learn in great depth about the history of the Indigenous Peoples of this area, and even more rare to have the opportunity to learn about this history from descendants of Indigenous Peoples such as the presenter, Heather Bruegl… [who] shared information that had been unknown to me and to many of the 215 other viewers.”
November is Native American Heritage Month, also known as “American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month.
According to the National Congress of American Indians, “The month is a time to celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people. Heritage Month is also an opportune time to educate the general public about tribes, to raise a general awareness about the unique challenges Native people have faced both historically and in the present, and the ways in which tribal citizens have worked to conquer these challenges.”
Native American Heritage Day is celebrated the day after Thanksgiving.