Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Wampanoag ~ 'We Still Live Here'

We're the people who met the Pilgrims.
We still live here.

Think back to pre- or elementary school and try to recall what you learned about what came to be described as the "First Thanksgiving" in America. Chances are you might recall some details about the Pilgrims: their clothing, their difficult journey to the New World on the Mayflower, their arrival at Cape Cod in Massachusetts, the feast of food they shared with "the Indians" who later had cause to regret having helped ensure the Pilgrims' survival. What do you remember about "the Indians" on Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard? Can you even name them? If you've ever been on the islands, do you recognize that the place names on signs are Wampanoag words?

The Wampanoag, who still live on their native lands in southeastern Massachusetts, are all but forgotten, except as "the people who met the Pilgrims". For probably 150 years, no one has even spoken the Wampanoag language as a first language. Sometime in the mid-1990s, however, a remarkable effort was undertaken to begin to reclaim the language that had no living speakers—and thus the cultural heritage and history of the Wampanoag. It was impelled by Jessie Little Doe Baird, a Wampanoag social worker, who had had a recurring vision or dream in which she was addressed in a then incomprehensible language that, she eventually came to realize, was the Algonquian language of her ancestors. 

The story of how Little Doe Baird, who earned a masters in linguistics from MIT and is a 2010 recipient of a MacArthur Foundation grant, and members of the Mashpee, Aquinnah, Assonet, and Herring Pond Wampanaog communities discovered hundreds of documents written in their "lost language" and initiated the Wopanaak Language Reclamation Project is the subject of the award-winning documentary We Still Live Here, produced and directed by Anne Makepeace of Makepeace Productions. Here's the official trailer, followed by a short video MacArthur Foundation interview with Little Doe about the language reclamation project:

Screening Information (November Listings by State Here)

Some of this important project's successes, which include creation of a dictionary with more than 11,000 words, are detailed here. A child, a seventh generation Wampanoag, is learning Wapanaak as her first language.

The documentary is available to order.

Also Of Interest

American Indian Film Institute

Cultural Survival Website

Native American Heritage Month

National Museum of the American Indian

Of Plymouth Plantation, Electronic Version of Bradford's History of Plymouth Plantation 1606-1646

PBS NewsHour Report, "'We Still Live Here' Details Effort to Restore Wampanoag Language", November 10, 2011

Plimoth Plantation 

Plimoth-on-Web: The 'First Thanksgiving': Facts and Fancies

PlumTV Interview with Anne Makepeace (This interview, just 2:30 minutes long, also is worth viewing.)

Telegraph 21 Video Interview with Jessie Little Doe Baird (In this excellent interview, Little Doe Baird speaks about her decision to pursue a degree in linguistics at MIT.)

We Still Live Here on FaceBook and Twitter

Please also see today's post "A Melancholy Thanksgiving" by my friend Jay Adler at the sad red earth. It provides context for my own post.

My thanks to the PBS News Hour Art Beat program from which I first learned about We Still Live Here.


Louise Gallagher said...

how very inspiring Maureen.

The Cree language was almost extinct here but there has fortunately been a resurgence of preserving and using it as a living language.

Joyce Wycoff said...

What a beautiful reminder! Thank you for this post and introducing us to the project and to this very inspiring woman. It's interesting that we mourn the passing of a species of plant or animal but we don't mourn the thousands of languages we have lost. It is a different form of diversity but who knows how much it has limited our thinking and communication.

I'm very thankful for your blog which enlarges my world and your friendship which enriches it.

Maureen said...

Louise and Joyce, thank you for your comments, and for your friendship, which means so much to me.

S. Etole said...

In this part of the country, the Ojibwe language is being reclaimed. Thank you for this.