Perspectives: Practicing Traditions in Uncommon Ways


Last week I was given the opportunity to attend the speaker series “Interpreting Nipmuc” with Chief Holley at UMASS. It was fascinating listening to the Nipmuc peoples’ goals as a community moving into the future. I have spent so much time studying the history that I have never taken the time to consider the present.

Chief Holley focused her presentation on how the Nipmuc should strive for self-sufficiency in all aspects of their lives. This includes rebuilding their tribe’s pharmacopoeia along with shifting their dietary needs towards food sovereignty. When English settlers began fencing off land upon their arrival many of the natural resources that had always been available to the Nipmuc were lost. This not only included food resources, but also many plants and herbs traditionally used by the Nipmuc to make natural medicines. One of the ongoing projects within the community involve cataloging the many plant species found on the Nipmuc reservation so they may once again recreate the medicines of their ancestors. Producing their own food and medicine is not only centered on keeping their tradition, but also the community’s desire to move towards complete autonomy.

a75263316fa1b6f358d02878b3662e0cThe continued expansion and operation of the Hassanamisco Indian Museum is another important part of Nipmuc tradition. The museum is located in the one of the few structures to be continuously occupied by Native Americans in Southern New England. More information about it can be found here, including classroom materials that focus on keeping alive the Nipmuc language.

Something that stood out to me on a personal level was Chief Holley and her colleagues’ opinion that Native American history had been purposely written out of American history textbooks. Looking back at my own high school curriculum I was disappointed to find this to be mostly true. An entire chapter of New England’s  history has been ignored due to the many common core obligations thrust upon teachers struggling to meet federal standards. As a teacher candidate, I find myself constantly thinking of new ways to use what I’ve learned working with YIPP to create lessons designed to raise awareness.

Taking into consideration the differences of each tribe’s culture, it is impossible to do justice to Native American history with a “survey” approach. The story of the Nipmuc people is just as important and unique as that of the Pequot, Narragansett, and Mohegan, to name a few. With this challenge in mind, I think it is important for the high school curriculum to incorporate local Indian history to help create interest among students. Splitting classrooms into small groups that focus their efforts on one particular local tribe and presenting to their peers could go a long way in introducing young minds to a vast and rich history of native peoples. Introducing Native American history to students at a young age will not only create cross-cultural sensitivity but also introduce a fresh look at the history of North America before European influences.

— Kyle Armstrong

Featured picture courtesy of RootsWeb:The Grafton Indians and Pinterest

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