Thursday, 10:24 AM
Mashpee Wampanoags celebrate federal recognition
By Anna Badkhen, Globe Staff
CAMBRIDGE -- To the beat of a large drum, a dozen members of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe filed in front of a blanket spread on the carpeted floor, each holding a stick in their hands.
One by one, they brought the sticks to their lips, moistened them with the tips of their tongues, and placed them in a pile in the center of the blanket in a traditional ceremony called "crossroads."
Historically, the ceremony is held to celebrate journeys and express gratitude for good fortune. Today, the tribe commemorated and gave thanks for their long-awaited and most cherished passage of 2007: the federal recognition of the tribe.
"It has been a long journey. I am so pleased to be here," said Earl Mills, the tribal leader also known as Chief Flying Eagle, who presided over the ceremony at Harvard's Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology.
During the ceremony, the tribe members also petitioned for the release of tribal items still being held in Britain.
American museums and federal agencies are required by law to return some Native American cultural items at the tribes' request. The Peabody Museum, which has 3 million Indian artifacts from North America in its collection, has returned some items to the Mashpee Wampanoag in recent years, said Patricia Capone, the associate curator at the museum. Most of those objects have been human remains and funerary objects, she said.
The tribe is not planning to ask the museum to return the remainder of the Mashpee Wampanoag collection "anytime soon," said Shawn Hendricks, president of the tribal council.
"We have that right to request our things back but we also need a place to put them," he said. "The Peabody Museum is a safer place to keep them for now."
The tribe, which hopes to build a resort-style casino in Middleborough, may build a museum to display its artifacts, Hendricks said.
The tribal leaders were quick to point out that the ceremony had nothing to do with Thanksgiving Day.
"We are not celebrating Thanksgiving," said Hendricks. "It's not one of the better holidays for us. Columbus Day, that's not our top holiday, either."
Instead, some tribe members will join members of other New England Indian tribes tomorrow on the waterfront in Plymouth to commemorate the National Day of Mourning, which has been held since 1970, Hendricks said.
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