The Massachusetts house I live in was built in1806. Over the generations families have come and gone, each calling this old house their home. In my neighborhood however, 1806 is the new kid on the block. There are homes going back to the 1600's, each home holding their own story.
These colonial era homes help shape the narrative of who we are. Down my street, overlooking the ocean, is Independence Park. At this location the Declaration of Independence was read for the first time, just weeks after Jefferson put these immortal words to paper.
Such stories from the past, help shape our sense of who we are today as citizens of a city, state and nation. Yet there are older stories than those of the European founders. Stories that offer wisdom from a different perspective. These are the stories of the First Peoples who called and continue to call this land home.
From my house, I can see a modest rise of land, where 'newer homes' in the 1950's and 60's were built. In digging the foundations for these homes, evidence was found of a long standing summer encampment of various local tribes including the Mosconomet. Each summer for hundreds of years before the Europeans, these indigenous communities would gather to work the local mud flats for clams and fish the local water. Here the tribal communities would make camp, dry the fish for the winter, tell stories, create art and catch up on gossip. The encampment was a reunion of sorts where the various tribal communities, often sharing a common language and customs would ensure that the bond of community was strong.
The state I now call home, took its name from the Massachusetts people who for millennium had called this region home. By 1630s not long after the first Europeans arrived 90% of the Massachusetts people had died due to disease brought by the first settlers. Of those that survived many were the focus of Christian missionaries who converted the Massachusetts and other indigenous communities, with the expectation that they abide by colonial law and assimilate to the European culture.
Yet, for all the loss of life and the pressure to assimilate, the wisdom of the first peoples remain. Recently I listened to a talk by a Nipmuc elder, Larry Spotted Crow Mann. Larry spoke of how the Nipmuc ancestral land stretches from Connecticut, northern Rhode Island, through central Massachusetts. Their reservation is now but a few hundred acres.
He spoke about his people's physical, emotional and spiritual connection to the land. That for the Nipmuc everything is a circle of interdependence, where humanity is but a part of an ecological community. 'When one part of this ecological community suffers all of us suffer'. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Spotted_Crow_Mann
Such indigenous wisdom is contrary to that of the dominant Western culture, that treats the natural world as a commodity for the pleasure and purpose of human beings. On the cusp of ecological crisis, brought on by human made Climate Change, those of us shaped by Western society need a strong dose of humility. We need to learn from the wisdom of our first neighbors as to how to live in harmony with all that is.
On Indigenous Peoples Day (commemorated the 2nd Monday of October in 14 states) we are invited to broaden our lens for understanding who we come from and who we are today. Our sense of identity and national narrative is shaped only in part, by those first European settlers and the waves of immigrants who followed. It is essential that we educate ourselves so as to hear and heed the wisdom of those who first called this land and these waters home.
Larry Spotted Crow Mann: 'People in the dominant culture think we ceased to exist 300 years ago, the victims of disease, conversion and war. My people have never left. We are still here. We are still speaking'.
Our well being will be determined by our ability to embrace the diverse stories that shape and guide us. A good place to start, is to listen to and learn from the stories of our indigenous neighbors.
With you on the journey ~ Kent Harrop