Wendell, tribes join forces to ID ceremonial sites

Recorder Staff
Published: 10/27/2017 2:22:31 PM

WENDELL — A group of collaborating Native American tribes has offered to work with Massachusetts towns to identify landscapes of ceremonial or religious significance to their heritage, and Wendell is taking them up on that.

The history of indigenous ceremonial stone landscapes and the importance of maintaining their integrity and tranquility was explained to the Selectboard by Doug Harris, deputy tribal historic preservation officer for the Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office in Charlestown, R.I.

Harris said these sites probably exist in every town in the state, and Wendell is no exception.

“For the Narragansett people, the sites represent a prayer tradition,” Harris said. He explained that centuries ago, if members of the tribe found a fellow member had been killed by an animal, they would take the victim back to the village for burial, but the spot where the death occurred was considered to have had an energy that was out of balance. Harris said a medicine man would have been sent to heal the energy and “that’s where the ceremonial site would have been made ... to sustain the balance of harmony in that place.”

The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and the Pequot, Mohegan and Narragansett tribes are collaborating on this and have signed a memorandum of understanding with Wendell to share authority of sites of an indigenous nature.

Harris and Wendell resident Lisa Hoag said there is an on-going process of finding and identifying ceremonial stone landscapes. Hoag, originally from North Andover, said she is the descendant of a Mayflower passenger and she appreciates Native American history. She said Benjamin Franklin and other revolutionary figures explained the United States Constitution — including its guarantees of freedom of speech, religion and a separation of powers — is modeled after the Great Law of Peace, the oral constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy.

“We need to acknowledge all of our founding fathers, which includes the Iroquois,” she said.

Hoag, who owns a design company in Wendell, said she has thrown her support behind protecting these sites because she has for years gone in the forest to “sort of decompress” and she discovered the forest is a place of healing.

Harris said this mission started in 2002, when the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) issued a resolution that for the first time identified ceremonial sites.

“For thousands of years, before the coming of the Europeans, the medicine men of the Pauwaus in New England were using ceremonial stone landscapes as a methodology for communicating with our mother, the Earth,” he said.

Harris said USET now consists of 27 tribes from Maine to Texas.

After the resolution was issued, Harris said the Narragansett, Aquinnah-Wampanoag and Mashpee-Wampanoag tribes banded together to protect a hill, considered sacred, at the Turners Falls Airport.

Harris said he married into a Narragansett family, though his ancestors (Cheraw and Cherokee) were from South Carolina. He has been deputy tribal historic preservation officer for the Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office for 21 years.

Harris will deliver a shortened version of his presentation at the Shea Theater in Turners Falls before a 5 p.m. benefit concert on Sunday to protect indigenous sacred stone sites. He is scheduled to give his full presentation, with attorney Anne Marie Garti, in Amherst from 3 to 5 p.m. on Dec. 3.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 258. On Twitter: @DomenicPoli

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