A Message of Support for the Mashpee Wampanoag Community

March 31, 2020


On March 27, 2020, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs informed the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe that the tribe's reservation will be "disestablished" and its land taken out of trust.

For more than 70 years, Plimoth Plantation has been committed to telling the story of the Wampanoag people and the English colonists who met along these shores of change in 1620. Visitors to our Museum often ask, “What’s Patuxet?” The answer is an invitation to focus on the Indigenous way of making sense of this place – about the bountiful waterways to which its name pays tribute, to the thriving Wampanoag community that existed here until the devastating plague of 1616-1619. This land that is both Patuxet and Plymouth speaks to the emergence of an Indigenous-English hybrid society that existed here – in conflict and in collaboration – in the 17th century. It is a complex and interwoven story of diplomacy and subterfuge, of respect and of oppression, of friendship and enmity, of innovation forged of necessity. In short, it is America. It is the history we are all still living today.

We acknowledge that this Museum rests on land called Patuxet, the ancestral home to Indigenous Wampanoag and other Native communities for 12,000 years before Mayflower’s arrival in 1620. This acknowledgement includes recognizing the long-standing presence and ongoing vitality of the Wampanoag community. Wampanoag people still live on or near the fields, forests and waters where their ancestors lived thousands of years ago and which remain integral to their way of life. Our colleagues, who represent Wampanoag and several other tribal nations, have taught all of us more about the profound meaning of ancestral land to Indigenous people. Beyond stewardship, sovereign land provides an essential basis for self-government, a connection with the ancestors, and a lifeline to preserving cultural heritage. 

The many-layered historical landscape in present-day Plymouth, Massachusetts is an essential part of our Museum’s story and educational mission. The history of the communities - both Indigenous and colonial - who made homes along the coast of Eastern Massachusetts tells a story of the transformation of the ecological and cultural landscape in the 1600s that very much reflects the larger story of the United States’ history. No matter where we identify our roots, the land is intimately connected to our sense of belonging, our well-being and our history.

Especially in this 400th anniversary year, this Museum seeks to represent all of the people, Indigenous and European, first-generation or with deep roots, who lived, worked, loved, fought, planted, and traded on this land in the 17th century. In 1620, Mayflower arrived to a land virtually unknown to its now famous passengers, who, in seeking a better life for themselves, thought they were entering an almost vacant wilderness. In fact, they encountered a complex and interconnected network of Indigenous communities. The Wampanoag welcomed these émigrés, formed alliances with them, and showed them how to survive on a land that was new to them – land on which the Wampanoag continue - to this day - to fish, hunt, govern sovereign communities, and raise their families. We strive to reflect the ideals of respect and recognition that the English of Plymouth Colony and Massasoit’s confederation of Wampanoag communities demonstrated in their 1621 alliance. 

Today, as we too face the challenges of an international pandemic not unlike the one the Wampanoag and other Native people faced, we are reminded of the choice we all have to act with compassion and respect. It is incumbent upon us to acknowledge and affirm the rights of the Wampanoag people to what is a small fraction of their ancestral lands, so that they may preserve - in ways they see fit - their culture, their tribal government and their identity for future generations. 

As a history museum we frequently hear our visitors passing judgment on the people of the past - Indigenous or English - but it is not for us in the 21st century to judge them. We believe that those who learn from history are better equipped to meet the challenges of today, and so rather than judgment we encourage questions: What will history say about us and the people of our time? What might people 50 years from now, 100 or 400 years now, judge us for? What choices am I making today that might negatively or positively impact people in the future?  

Plimoth Plantation stands with our friends, colleagues and neighbors of the Mashpee Wampanoag community, many of whom are current or former educators within our Wampanoag Indigenous education program and members of the Museum’s Board of Trustees. 

Democracy requires informed citizens. We encourage you to learn more about the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s land situation and ask that you consider adding your voice to ours by asking Congress to protect the Mashpee Wampanoag’s ancestral reservation lands through the "Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act” (HR.312).  

You can also find many educational resources about the story of the Wampanoag people and the English colonists at plimoth.org/learn.

Darius Coombs Plimoth Plantation mishoon