Celebrating indigenous traditions with mishoon’s launch

  •  Jonathon James Perry of the Aquinnah Wampanoag Nation launches a traditional dugout canoe, called a mIshoon, into the Connecticut River Saturday morning.  STAFF PHOTO/MARY BYRNE

  • Jared James paddles at the front of the mIshoon, followed by Andrew DeVito and the family of Jonathon James Perry (at rear). STAFF PHOTO/MARY BYRNE

  • Members of the community joined the Nolumbeka Project and the Connecticut River Conservatory for the launch of a traditional, dugout canoe, known as a mIshoon. STAFF PHOTO/MARY BYRNE

Staff Writer
Published: 8/2/2020 4:15:59 PM

GILL — With a final push into the river, Jonathon James Perry stepped into the back of the first traditional dugout canoe to be constructed on the banks of the Connecticut River in more than 200 years.

“We all worked together — David (Brule) and the Nolumbeka organization, tribal members like Andrew DeVito, Jared (James), myself — to focus in on it and push through for today,” Perry said.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of what would have been Nolumbeka’s eighth annual Pocumtuck Homelands Festival in Turners Falls, organizers found a way to safely hold the long-awaited launch of a traditional dugout canoe, called a mishoon.

“Originally, (the launch) was supposed to coincide with the Nolumbeka Festival,” Perry said of the festival, which was expected to take place Saturday and Sunday at Unity Park Waterfront.

Saturday’s launch into the Connecticut River was in recognition of Nolumbeka Project’s series, “River Stories 2020: Recovering Indigenous Voices.” Though many events in the series were canceled this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the series was designed to pay tribute to the tribes that were impacted by the arrival of the Mayflower in 1620.

The event, which was co-sponsored by the Connecticut River Conservatory, began at Barton Cove at 10 a.m. Community members joined Perry and others of the Aquinnah Wampanoag Nation to paddle their respective canoes up the Connecticut River, learning the history of the indigenous peoples.

The mishoon was created in the traditional methods of fire carving — burning the inside of a tree for three consecutive days.

“We started the project last year as part of the Nolumbeka Festival that’s held annually but unfortunately has been altered because of the COVID issues,” Perry said. “Nobody wants to be the spreader of something that takes lives.”

He said coming from a tribal nation, the history of sickness reducing a population so greatly his ancestors lost the ability to protect their homelands, he is sensitive and supportive of the cautionary measures being taken.

Perry said it’s more important to prioritize family and friends’ well-being over everything else.

“Wealth and possessions are miniscule to multi-generations of building education and spiritual and cultural understanding, those sorts of things,” Perry said. “That’s part of what all of this is about — this paddle today is building relationships.”

Diane Dix, who served as the event coordinator, said it was hard, initially, to “let go” of this year’s festival. Still, she was glad to be able to share the launch with people.

“It feels like it’s bringing truth back to life, restoring what was taken — from tribesman, from all of us,” she said.

Dix, a founding member of the Nolumbeka Project, said she was not educated in her youth about indigenous people, beyond hearing stories of the first Thanksgiving.

“I’m learning what I should have been taught when I was young,” she said.

The canoe paddle, which Dix said is being recorded, will be available on the organization’s website, nolumbekaproject.org.

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 263. Twitter: @MaryEByrne


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