Mass Humanities grants support audio tour, play performances and Indigenous event series

  • Walkers use the bike path in Unity Park in Turners Falls. Beginning on the Canalside Rail Trail in Unity Park and continuing through the Canal District, tourists will initially be able to immerse themselves in eight stories as part of the Peskeomskut Self-Guided Audio Tour, which is expected to be available by late June. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Ashfield’s Ohketeau Cultural Center. Contributed Photo

  • A previous presentation at Ashfield’s Ohketeau Cultural Center. Part of a $20,000 grant from Mass Humanities will help support the center’s “Living Presence” event series that focuses on the erasure of Indigenous groups through plaques, statues and memorials. Contributed Photo

  • A performance of “Freedom in Season,” a historical play that focuses on the untold story of Nipmuc men in the Civil War. Part of a $20,000 grant from Mass Humanities will help support future play performances. Contributed Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 1/24/2022 3:12:04 PM
Modified: 1/24/2022 3:10:46 PM

Thanks to a pair of $20,000 grants awarded through Mass Humanities, cultural organizations in Montague and Ashfield will be better equipped to improve their historical preservation efforts.

RiverCulture, Montague’s arts and culture planning organization, is one of 22 nonprofits to receive grant funding through Mass Humanities’ “Expand Mass Stories” initiative, which distributed $364,364 across the state. Funding will benefit the development of Montague’s Peskeomskut Self-Guided Audio Tour, a presentation of the town’s pre-colonial and industrial history expected to be available by late June.

Meanwhile, Ashfield’s Ohketeau Cultural Center, an Indigenous peoples cultural preservation organization that offers interdisciplinary education through art, is another nonprofit to receive a $20,000 grant. The organization plans to use the funding for its “Living Presence” guest speaker series and “Freedom in Season” play production.

Montague

According to a press release from RiverCulture Director Suzanne LoManto, audio tour partners first collaborated five years ago to conduct a comprehensive study of the 1676 Great Falls Massacre, during which 300 women, children and elders were killed during a surprise attack by Captain William Turner and colonial militia.

Development of the Peskeomskut Self-Guided Audio Tour will serve as the next step in Montague’s remembrance of both the Great Falls Massacre and the overall intercultural relationship it impacted. David Brule, Nolumbeka Project president and audio tour co-chair, said in the release that he “sees the storytelling project as the natural outcome of the collaboration of tribal and non-tribal communities joined in the process of reconciliation and healing.”

Creation of the audio tour will involve implementing a virtual platform for participants to tour the town guided by their cellphones, as well as recruiting speakers to orate pieces of pre-colonial and industrial history. Beginning on the Canalside Rail Trail in Unity Park and continuing through the Canal District, tourists will initially be able to immerse themselves in eight stories via the “STQRY” app, with hope that the number of stories will grow over time.

When applying for the grant in July, Selectboard Chair Rich Kuklewicz wrote to Mass Humanities that the project will specifically include “Indigenous perspectives and fact-based archeological evidence.” It will also include “narratives ranging from ancient maritime fishing traditions to the impact of the lumber industry in the development of Montague,” according to LoManto.

Ashfield

According to Mass Humanities, the Ohketeau Cultural Center’s $20,000 allocation will be put toward the “Living Presence” event series that “focuses on the erasure of Indigenous groups through plaques, statues and memorials.” Center Co-Director Rhonda Anderson said specifically, the money will primarily be used to pay Indigenous scholars who present as part of the series.

Fellow Co-Director Larry Spotted Crow Mann said funding may also be put toward “Freedom in Season,” a historical play he wrote, performed and co-produced that focuses on the untold story of Nipmuc men in the Civil War. The funding will be used to pay for performers, logistical support, behind-the-scenes work, wardrobe, musicians, a parking crew, food and miscellaneous supplies.

The co-directors said receiving the grant gave them mixed feelings. While they were grateful to receive the $20,000, they said, the money is a small tribute following a generations-long history of governmental negligence.

“In one sense, you could say ‘great.’ In another sense, you could say, ‘What took them so long?’” Mann said.

“I think it’s very important to recognize that Indigenous histories and contemporariness are invisibilized,” Anderson added.

They continued by expressing the hope that receiving the grant wouldn’t mislead the public to believe Indigenous peoples and related organizations are now financially set. They highlighted a history of the government’s shortcomings in distributing money to people of color, with Mann arguing that citizens should feel incentivized to help.

“We don’t want to live by them,” he said of government grants. “We want the community to feel like a part of this.”

“We have some really serious foundational work to do,” Anderson said. “This history is not your fault, but it is your responsibility.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


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