Wampanoag Perspectives on the Plymouth/Pokanoket Agreement

Video, Oral Tradition
Nanepashemet (Assonet Wampanoag). 500 Nations Interviews conducted by Jack Leustig, Roberta Grossman, Lee Miller, and W. T. Morgan, with John M. D. Pohl.
500 Nations: Kevin Costner Explores America’s Indian Heritage (CBS)
Portrait of Nanepashemet


In the years before his death in 1995, Nanepashemet (Assonet Wampanoag), a groundbreaking historian and leader of Plimoth Patuxet Museums' Wampanoag Indigenous program, dedicated his career to the Native history of this region. His commitment to uncovering Indigenous presence in even well-known primary sources transformed Plimoth Patuxet and the field of public history. Today, the field's emphasis on inclusive, multivocal history owes much to Nanepashemet's alternative readings of colonial documentary sources. In this excerpt from an interview with the filmmakers behind 500 Nations (1995), Nanepashemet discussed what motivated the Pokanoket sachem, Ousamequin (Massasoit), to ally his community with the English colonists at Plymouth. Tobias Vanderhoop, former Tribal Chairman for the Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah agreed with Nanepashamet’s interpretation and in a 2014 interview with that:

The 1621 alliance with Plymouth] was not just political convenience – it was survival. If you do not have power backing you, and you are a weakened people, then the enemies that naturally exist around you will take advantage. And our leadership knew very well the tough decisions that needed to be made at the time in order to ensure that Wampanoag people continued to exist in Wampanoag territory.1

Nanepashamet’s interview is an example of oral tradition - a spoken practice still used by many cultures around the world, including the Wampanoag and other Native tribal nations - to pass historical and cultural information from generation to generation. According to traditional educator and artist, Ramona Peters (Mashpee Wampanoag):

Through oral tradition, we learn about history, the prophecies; it is used to describe agreements, to share teachings, to carry on those teachings. Is also (is) used for group prayer, and also through song. Now with each of these, some are recited in the exact same way that they originated. In other words: history should not be changed by a speak who is several generations away from the original event. In this case, the orator, the speaker, has been trained very carefully to repeat exactly the way the story was told in the beginning. In this way, each generation as far as it can go will hear the historic facts of an event that affected The People.2


Video provided courtesy of Ancient Lights Video

Discussion Questions

  • Why do historians think Ousamequin (Massasoit) decided to ally with the English colonists at Plymouth?
  • How does Nanepashemet describe the Pokanoket’s feelings about the English colonists? Did that change the way they interacted?
  • What makes Ousamequin a good leader?
  • How did Ousamequin’s previous understanding and experience with Europeans inform his decision to ally with Plymouth Colony?
  • Think about a time you had to work with someone you did not know well. How did you feel at the beginning? How did your feelings change? How would you describe the outcome?
  • Based on what everyone knew at the time, do you think the terms of the agreement benefited the Pokanoket? Why or why not? What about the English colonists?


  • 1 Tobias Vanderhoop, interview for American Experience: The Pilgrims. Interviews conducted by Leigh Howell, Robin Espinola, Ric Burns. (Steeplechase Films, 2014)
  • 2 Ramona Peters, interview for “Oral Tradition and the Wampanoag,” You Are The Historian: an Educator’s Guide to the 1621 harvest celebration (Plimoth Patuxet Museums, 2002) pg. 70