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Education, traditions key to healing wounds of federal recognition process

WEBSTER, Mass. – On Sept. 5, the Nipmuc people of Massachusetts will hold a day-long educational and traditional event for tribal members, friends and the public.

The federal recognition process “separated our people over time,” David Tall Pine White said. “So our focus on Sept. 5 is education and sharing as well as bringing people together. We have been divided. So we are including everything together: feast, dance, lecture.” The Commonwealth of Massachusetts recognizes the Nipmuc, but the federal recognition process is not complete.

Speakers will address language and material culture restoration as well as contemporary tribal goals and Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The event runs from 1 to 6 p.m. and will include dinner for $7. The event will be held at American Legion Post 184 at 9 Houghton St. in Webster, Mass. The 29th Annual Nipmuc Pow Wow will be held by the Chaubunagungamaug Council Sept. 12 and 13 in Holland, Mass.

Tall Pine will discuss Nipmuc language restoration. He explained that “after King Phillip’s War, our people were assimilated and the language was forbidden to be spoken (through legislation by the Commonwealth). However, various families continued to speak Nipmuc and missionary documents that record the language phonetically are still available.” Tall Pine’s teacher, Little Turtle, grew up around people speaking the language and, before passing over, requested the Tall Pine continue language classes.

“The kids are very interested in the language restoration overall and we’ve come up with ways for them to learn; they learn very quickly. The week-to-week project is very grassroots; we go to people’s houses, we keep it simple, it is all volunteer and with our own resources. By introducing simple words and phrases in everyday life or prayer we are relearning the language.”

John Eliot (1604-1690) a missionary, politician and land speculator, planned the demise of southern New England Natives by establishing the first ghettos on this continent. Ostensibly referred to as “praying Indian towns,” Eliot began his endeavors by translating the Bible into the Native Natick dialect. John Printer, a Native commissioned by Eliot to work as a printer, actually did the work; so today, the Nipmuc people have both European-style language tools as well as traditional people to bring the language back.

Ironically, the forbidden Nipmuc was the language spoken by all actors in “After the Mayflower,” the first of the “We Shall Remain” PBS specials; Tall Pine was the language instructor on the set. People who attend the event are welcome to ask questions about the filmmaking process – many of the speakers were actors or consultants for the film.

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In reference to various contemporary conflicts, Tall Pine noted that Nipmuc people are related to the Wampanoag, Narragansett, Pocumtuck and Nashaway who originally lived in Massachusetts. “We are all a family; we once worked together cohesively. Massasoit actually lived here in Nipmuc country in his final days and King Phillip’s War took place on Nipmuc land.”

One out of 65 English colonists died in that war, referred to as “America’s forgotten conflict” by some historians. Three out of 20 Natives died. The war was proportionately the bloodiest and costliest in the history of America. So, the educational and traditional event in Webster is not simply local or merely about one tribe: it concerns and reflects all Americans.

The world will also benefit from the results of a project run by the Nipmuc Nation Tribal Historic Preservation Office to be discussed by Cheryl Watching Crow Stedtler.

On one of the hills of Worcester, Mass., where the Commonwealth built a now decaying hospital for the mentally ill, a tiny sign in disrepair along Route 9 notes that the hill was once the home of Nipmuc people. Below the hill is the site of a world-renowned university hospital and below that – Lake Quinsigamond.

The lake is four miles long, so by 1857 competitive rowing teams established numerous clubs there. By 2005, the Quinsigamond Rowing Association hosted the USRowing Masters Championships on the lake. The shoreline is heavily built up and numerous colleges have regattas and rowing clubs there.

Incredibly, a mishoonash was discovered submerged there by an underwater diver and today, University of Massachusetts scientists are working with the tribe to raise the dugout canoes that are at least three centuries old. Underwater photographs are available online at A documentary of the project is also underway.

Also Sept. 5, Troy Phillips, who serves as Western Massachusetts’ Commissioner on Indian Affairs, will discuss NAGPRA, and Larry Spotted Crow Mann will give the overview, history and goals of the tribe, and the Quabbin Lake Singers will perform drum and dance exhibitions.

Earlier this year, at the summer solstice, Nipmuc people returned to land gifted to them in Oxford, Mass., “to a place we call Kekemoodchog.” There the children were instructed on planting corn in the ancient ways. “It was a wonderful day. It was good for the nation and our people,” Tall Pine said.