Keeping culture alive: a Wampanoag tradition
November is Native American Heritage Month and today we honor our valuable partnerships with Tribal governments through the lens of a program that connects young people with their Native American heritage. Nitana Hicks is a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and the Curriculum Manager for the Wampanoag Language Reclamation Project. Here, she shares with us the story of young Wampanoag campers as they wrap up their camping experience with a meaningful fishing trip.
The Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project held its third annual Summer Turtle Camp for Wampanoag elementary and middle school students on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. For three weeks this past summer, 45 Wampanoag youth were immersed in their culture, using Wampanoag language both as a topic of the curriculum, and as a teaching tool. Each year the camp culminates with a showcase of the campers’ work, and a clambake that the children prepare for by harvesting the seafood themselves.
The yearly fishing trip to catch food for the meal has now become part of the curriculum, teaching students about harvesting and using natural resources. Members of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Natural Resources Commission accompanied the campers into Nantucket Sound by way of Popponesset Bay to catch fish for their clambake.
Students are always excited for the trip on the water and this year was no different. Campers are taught how to use a fish finder, bait their own hooks and reel in their own fish. This year, as in the past, we were fortunate enough to have help from some of the camper’s family members. David Greene, Jim Rossignol and Chuggy Maxim all contributed their time, fishing boats, equipment, snacks, knowledge and skill for the day’s adventures into the Sound.
Another special guest on the trip was DJ Monette, the Native American Liaison for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Northeast Region.
The real excitement came, of course, when the kids pulled in a fish of their own, which most of them did. Some lucky students caught more than one, and a few students caught two at a time, which made for some of the most exciting moments of the day.
Even more delightful to see of the students were their encouraging and helpful attitudes and actions towards each other. They often gathered around when a friend was working hard to reel in a fish, and offered help when a big fish seemed more than some of the youngest campers could handle.
The trip proved successful as this year we caught 45 fish, both sea bass and scup. One of the camper’s grandfather filleted the fish for the impending feast, and the kids all worked to cut, season and wrap the fish for their families to enjoy at the clambake.
DJ summed it up well when he described his experience with the group this year, “It was an honor to have volunteered at the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s youth fishing trip. It’s great to see the Tribe connecting its young people to Wampanoag culture by using their native language, while at the same time teaching them about natural resources through activities such as this educational fishing trip. I look forward to helping next year.”