Learning, Planting, and Preserving Homelands with the Mashpee Wampanoag

The Mashpee Wampanoag (Wopanaak) Tribe, the People of The First Light, have lived in the Eastern Massachusetts area for thousands of years. The Mashpee, are one of the sixty-nine Tribes that existed of the Wampanoag Nation, which extended from present-day Provincetown, Massachusetts to Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. Today, the Mashpee reside in their traditional village of Mashpee off the southwestern coast of Cape Cod. Nearby, the Waquoit bay area, home of salt marshes, cranberry bogs, Atlantic white cedar swamps, freshwater marshes, rivers, and vernal pools, are protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge.

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Not only are the Mashpee NWR and Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in close proximity to each other, but they also collaborated for a conservation sharing experience: traditional ecological knowledge from the Mashpee Wampanoag and conservation methods from the Service. In fact, on August 1st, 2017, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in Mashpee, Massachusetts hosted their sixth annual Preserving Our Homelands (POH) Summer Science Camp. This year, the Service participated extensively on a sunny, Tuesday, “FWS Day”.

Tom Eagle, the Deputy Wildlife Manager, and Jared Green, the Wildlife Refuge Specialist from Eastern Mass. NWR Complex visited the Tribe and demonstrated radio telemetry tracking. Students engaged during the process by using equipment to track a tagged, symbolic New England cottontail and Northern long-eared bat, while learning about native and ecologically important species in the region. In fact, both animals are species of concern due to habitat loss for cottontails and white nose syndrome in bats. Tom Eagle expressed the experience by saying, “The Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge has had a great partnership with the tribe since the refuge was established in 1995. Together, the Service and partners have protected many acres for wildlife and have cooperatively managed hundreds of acres of habitat for rare species.” Eagle continued with, “However, this is the first time that the refuge has interacted with and connected with tribal youth. It was a great experience to learn along with them about their culture. I hope we continue to work together as a team on conservation issues and that some students continue in their learning and seek careers with the Service.”

The Northeast Regional Office participated at the FWS Day as well. Leah Hawthorn, the Public Affairs Assistant led a pollinator lesson about native species roles and pertinence to daily life. Students were able to make chapstick using pollinated ingredients and create bee bundle habitats with Japanese knotweed, a recycled invasive plant. Chloe Doe, a SCA/Americorp Intern for the Regional Office also designed a jeopardy board and engaged students in answering fun factoids about pollinators. The prize for correct answers were chocolates pollinated by the peculiar, chocolate midge!

As Americorp Jr. Native American Liaison for Northeast and Regional Tribes with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I presented how my Oglala Lakota culture has influenced my pathway to the Liaison position. I explained how my internships with several environmental federal agencies all maintained a similar mission of preserving the environment for future generations. Lakota traditions similarly believe in thinking seven generations ahead in order to ensure the spiritual, physical, and emotional health and stability for the future of our Tribe. These expressed similarities presented the commonalities between the mission of the Service and my cultural traditions. I then segued into career options for the Mashpee Wampanoag youth and received several questions about the Youth Conservation Corp and how they might become involved.

That day at Mashpee, Wampanoag youth were already involved in conservation of their ancestral homelands. In fact, students were encouraged to design their own aesthetically-pleasing and meaningful garden to benefit pollinating insects. Ted Kendziora, wildlife biologist from the New England Field Office led this native species garden planting activity with Mary Kay Fox, the President of Friends of Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge. In all, 185 native plants were put into Mashpee Wampanoag ground for pollinators, including 21 different plant species, 6 of which were host plants for 8 different species of butterflies. Serviceberry, yellow false indigo, New Jersey tea, perennial lupine, New England aster, and butterfly weed were planted specifically for pollinators. Culturally relevant plants to the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe are chokecherry and American hazelnut.

A Mashpee Wampanoag community member reminded students that decades from now when the students are elders, they can look back upon this garden and be reminded of their contributions to their community. Casey C. Thornbrugh PhD, Director Of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s Natural Resources Department and Chuckie Green, Assistant Natural Resources Director also contributed to sharing the traditional ecological knowledge of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and how Mashpee youth can continue to be involved in preserving their ancestral homelands.

The Preserving our Homelands experience was not only a partnership and collaboration between the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and the Service, but a positive learning experience for all who were involved.. It was rewarding to share our knowledge of radio telemetry, pollination, and career pathways, but it was a much greater gift to be welcomed by the Mashpee Wampanoag community. A sincere thank you to the Tribal students who made our day inspiring, exciting, and memorable. The students shared with us their enthusiasm for their home and we are so honored to have been invited by Casey Thornbrugh and Chuckie Green.

In my language, I thank the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe for the Preserving Our Homeland experience. Pilamaya. Wopila.

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