Jennifer Weston/Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project
Summer Turtle camper Xavier Hendricks helps with language teachers Tia Pocknett’s and Tracy Kelley’s traditional cooking demonstrations during a week of language and history lessons on tribal crops and foods.

Sleeping Language Waking Up Thanks to Wampanoag Reclamation Project

Christina Rose
2/25/14

So, over the last 20 years, the group has provided language instruction to at least 500 people. Today, there are five different Wampanoag classes taught in Massachusetts. Much more is on tap as the immersion school is expected to open next summer.

The Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project’s staff celebrated 20 years of language planning, advocacy, and reclamation with a community open house in December 2013 at the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Language Center in Mashpee, Massachusetts. Pictured, from left, are: Tia Pocknett, Jennifer Weston, Jessie Baird, Jennifer Harding, Tracy Kelley, Toodie Coombs, Leeah Chumack (UMass language student), and Brian Weeden. (Trish Keli’inui/Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council Member)

Tia Pocknett, Micmac, linguist and language apprentice with the project, has been studying the language for about three and a half years. “Right now, there are hundreds taking classes, and as of now there are more than 50 kids taking classes. And we have some completely fluent speakers,” she said.

Before the school can open, they need a building though. “We are looking at a lot of different sites, and by October, we should have a provisional lease,” Baird said. She founded the project with help from elder Helen Manning, a Wampanoag educator who was passionate about the history and culture.

Finding a place that is accessible to all four Wampanoag communities, the Aquinnah, Mashpee, Assonet, and Herring Pond, will be the biggest challenge. “I think people in general like the idea, but there are concerns. It will be a challenge for people on Martha’s Vineyard, (which is an island) especially during the tourist season,” said Nitana Hicks, who is Wampanoag and a curriculum and language specialist.

Finding teachers proficient in the language is sure to be another challenge. “We are looking for teachers from the four different Wampanoag communities,” Pocknett said.

As a charter school, registration may be open to all Cape Codders, not only the tribal communities. Only a few dozen students will be admitted at first, with plans for many more in the future.

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Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
Who would deny that Wampanoag coming back to the lips of Native speakers is a good thing? Learning the language of one's culture is NEVER a bad thing, but it's especially good when we speak of an indigenous language. Modern descendants of those NDNs who participated in the first "thanksgiving" (although not in the way that American history books would have you believe) will have a new insight into the thoughts and feelings of their ancestors. I often wonder how many indigenous names are used all over the U.S. without anyone knowing of their origins? I see the majority in the eastern U.S. (Pontiac, Winnebago, Wichita, etc.), but the southwest is dominated by names given by the Spanish. It would be wonderful to see Hopi, Zuni, Dine', N'de and Tewa words on street signs or maps, but as we're currently suffering from a mass migration of easterners escaping a cold winter, I can't see it happening soon.
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