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

In order to assure the students are exposed to the language year-round, the school will run all year. Students will still only attend 180 days, but there will be more breaks throughout the year. Core subjects other than English will be taught in Wampanoag.

Traditional Wampanoag culture will play an important part in classes. “In June, we will look at the life cycle in the pond, the types of wildlife; and as they build literacy, they will study fishing, weaving, processing and tanning hides,” Baird said. “It seems strange to start the year in the fall when the earth is winding down. There are four seasons to cover.

“It is a way of reinforcing ways of life and teaching with the core curriculum standards. We are using the immersion school model that a lot have used,” Baird said of the model that is in place in 50 tribal schools throughout the country.

The biggest challenge to the schools’ success will be the proficiency of caregivers at home. Baird explained that parents of all children attending the school will be required to study the language four hours each week. “If the kindergarteners are going to become proficient, then mom and dad have to be proficient too. They have to understand the homework,” Baird said.

Mashpee (Mâseepee) means Big Water referring to Mashpee Pond. (Christina Rose)

The schools will follow the Massachusetts state framework using traditional Wampanoag content, and will merge the two into an 11-month program rather than the standard nine months. The program matches state standards and are Wampanoag appropriate, according to Hicks.

The project, which is an inter-tribal nonprofit organization, is applying for a charter from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Office of Charter Schools. “Our timeline for opening will be determined by the state timeline for approvals. We are following the state process,” Weston said.

For Baird, the best part about bringing the language back is opening doors for the tribe to understanding their ancestor’s stories. “My ability to go back and look at petitions and wills of people that are my blood, and to see their struggles with contact with the non-Natives and the writers of Southern New England history,” has been one of the most profound aspects of her journey.

“We never lost our ceremonies and dances; they never left our land. But having the language has allowed us to reclaim some answers. It has been wonderful. We have 2,700 tribal members, and it is still a really strong community,” Baird said.

And the community is growing. According to Hicks, “2012 was a big year for Wampanoag Nation growth. There were a huge number of babies born, and this year, there will be a new wave of language learners.”


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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.