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Mashpee Wampanoag Give Thanks

In 1621, Mashpee Wampanoag Indians shared in what's now called The First Thanksgiving.

But in recent decades, the tribe has stayed away from public celebrations of the holiday.

This Thanksgiving though, they decided to hold their own ceremony. WBUR's Bianca Vazquez Toness was at the event in Cambridge yesterday, and has this report.

TEXT OF STORY

BIANCA VAZQUEZ TONESS:
A group of more than 30 tribal members has come from Cape Cod and gathered in what seems like an unlikely place. Harvard University's Peabody Museum, in the the Native American artefact collection. But the tribe feels honored here. And the location makes sense for a group of people who are best known for what they did close to 400 years ago. That's when their ancestors shared their food — mostly oysters and venison — with the pilgrims on the first Thanksgiving.

ELLEN HENDRICKS: We've never done this before.

TONESS: Ellen Hendricks is 82 years old. She sits while her grandchildren, nieces and nephews prepare the ceremony. She says the group usually doesn't do anything special.

HENDRICKS: Everybody goes with their family and has their dinner and then they do whatever...always had football games on Thanksgiving. yeah!! The guys all went to football games and the woman all stayed home and prepared the dinner.

TONESS: When she was a little girl, Hendricks said the elders attended Thanksgiving parades in Boston and other cities they stood on floats and waved to the crowds. But then the tribe stopped because they felt marginalized the rest of the year. But this Thanksgiving is different.

SHAWN HENDRICKS: Welcome everybody.. I'm Shawn Hendricks. Chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe. Earlier this year the federal recognized us as something that we always knew we were. A native people, a tribe, a sovereign nation. During this season of Thanksgiving, which it was to us, it was a time to celebrate the harvest, prepare for the winter. We want to give thanks for the very important progress we've made towards self-sufficiency.

TONESS: Now the tribe is working to turn its property into tribal land, and later build a casino in Middleborough. The Mashpee Wampanoag council says the casino will pay for housing and other services for the 1,400 remaining tribal members.

After the ceremony, the organizers rushed to board their bus back to Cape Cod. Gayle Andrews says the casino is a matter of survival for the tribe, but it's not the only reason for its sudden embrace of this complicated holiday.

GAYLE ANDREWS: Before recognition we still had a powwow, before recognition, before casinos...if we were all about casinos, we wouldn't be doing a damn thing to appreciate the elders and the ancestors who got us here.

TONESS: To honor their ancestors, Andrews and other tribal members are requesting that the Queen of England return relics and bones of the Mashpee Wampanoag. They're currently held in British museums. The tribe wants the remains in particular so they can finally be laid to rest.

This program aired on November 22, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

Bianca Vázquez Toness Twitter Reporter
Bianca Vázquez Toness was formerly a report for WBUR.

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