Tag Archives: Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe

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.

Keeping culture alive: a Wampanoag tradition

Nitana Hicks is a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Photo credit: Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe

Nitana Hicks is a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Photo credit: Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe

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.  

 

These young campers are ready for a day on the water, hoping to catch some fish for an evening feast. Photo Credit: DJ Monette USFWS

These young campers are ready for a day on the water, hoping to catch some fish for an evening feast. Photo Credit: DJ Monette USFWS

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.

 

Chuggy Maxim, one of the adult volunteers for the camp, donated his time and use of his boat for the day’s festivities. The program’s success is partly due to volunteers such as Chuggy who share valuable time knowledge and life skills with the campers. Photo credit: DJ Monette/USFWS

Jim Rossignol, one of the adult volunteers for the camp, donated his time and use of his boat for the day’s festivities. The program’s success is partly due to volunteers such as Jim who share valuable time, knowledge and life skills with the campers. Photo credit: DJ Monette/USFWS

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.

 

Fishing success! The group reeled in plenty of fish for everyone to enjoy. Photo Credit: DJ Monette, USFWS

Fishing success! The group reeled in plenty of fish for everyone to enjoy. Photo Credit: DJ Monette/ USFWS

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.

 

A group of Summer Turtle campers gathers for a photo after a successful fishing trip. Photo Credit: DJ Monette, USFWS

A group of Summer Turtle campers gathers for a photo after a successful fishing trip. Photo Credit: DJ Monette/USFWS

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.”

 

Here comes Peter Cottontail, hopping down the bunny trail... Credit: USFWS

A bunny’s tale: Protecting New England cottontail habitat on Cape Cod

This post comes from our partner, Diane Petit at the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service in Massachusetts.

Cape Cod’s beautiful seashore, inlets, salt marshes and woodlands are a natural draw for year-round and vacation home owners, and tourists. A boon for the local economy, the associated development is not so good for an elusive little creature: the New England cottontail rabbit. Habitat loss has New England’s only native rabbit as a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Private landowners, conservation groups, a tribe and government agencies have joined forces to restore New England Cottontail habitat throughout New England. In Mashpee, Mass., on Cape Cod, habitat restoration work at three sites is yielding results.

Spring is a great time to give back to nature. We're looking for volunteers to help with plantings in New England cottontail habitat. Credit: USFWS

Spring is a great time to give back to nature. We’re looking for volunteers to help with plantings in New England cottontail habitat. Contact us if you’re interested. Credit: USFWS

A total of nearly 100 acres of habitat are being restored on land owned, respectively, by The Trustees of Reservations land trust, Orenda Wildlife Land Trust and Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. Because the three sites border each other, the conservation benefits are even greater as they provide a larger footprint for habitat.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, (NRCS), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, (USFWS), provided financial and technical help through the departments’ Working Lands for Wildlifepartnership. The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife also provided technical assistance.

New England cottontails need brush, shrubs and densely growing young trees – known as young forest or early successional habitat – where they can find food, rear young and escape predators. Much young forest has been lost to development or has grown up into older woods, where cottontails don’t live.

More than 100 kinds of wildlife in the Northeast use shrubland and young forest during part or all of their life cycles, so restoring New England cottontail habitat benefits many other species, as well.

Here comes Peter Cottontail, hopping down the bunny trail... Credit: USFWS

Here comes Peter Cottontail, hopping down the bunny trail… Credit: USFWS

The New England cottontail – which looks similar to the more abundant Eastern cottontail, an introduced species – lives in coastal southwestern Maine, southeastern New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and southeastern New York – less than a fifth of its historic range.

At the Mashpee River Reservation, owned by The Trustees of Reservations land trust, 50 acres of dense forest canopy have been cleared. Black huckleberries, low-bush blueberries, bracken fern and scrub oak were being suppressed by the dense canopy but with the tree clearing, the plants have really taken off, which will provide flowers for pollinators and fruit for wildlife.

“There’s a whole suite of bird species including grouse, turkey, eastern towhees, prairie warblers; we hope to see these things increase,” said Russ Hopping, the land trust’s ecology program director, noting that invertebrates, including rare moth species, also rely on this type of habitat.

In late May 2013, the Orenda Wildlife Land Trust began prescribed burning, a conservation practice that helps plants to regenerate by exposing soil and controlling competing vegetation. Administrator Elizabeth Lewis said that they saw results by that October.  “We’ve been really pleased with the results of this program,” said Lewis.

NRCS and the Cape Cod Conservation District helped the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe with a 32-acre New England cottontail habitat project on tribal land. The project holds historic, as well as environmental, significance for the tribe.

“Maintaining the environment is a part of my history, my culture, my life. To us all creatures are our brothers and sisters,” said George “Chuckie” Green, assistant natural resources director for the tribe.

“We started seeing plants that we hadn’t seen in our lifetime come back,” said Green who also noticed a small blue moth that he had never seen before. “This spring those little blue moths were all over the property.”

“What we did, and what our partners are doing, achieves something people said can’t be done,” said Green. “But we’re doing it. We are doing it.”

Want to help us conserve the New England cottontail? Here are some example opportunities.