Many people in our area learned what they know about America's indigenous people from their high school social studies classes, and when they think of them, may still have a mental image of plains or western tribes, such as the Cheyenne, Lakota, or Diné© (Navajo). However, there were many nations in the "dawn land" (east), too, whose names might not be quite as familiar: Abenaki, Nipmuc, Mi'Kmaq, Narragansett, Wampanoag and Maliseet, to name a few.
But, they have just as rich a history, and their cultures are alive and well in New England and eastern Canada.
Recently, the Agawam Group in Ipswich held their second annual powwow, where Quabbin Lake Singers sang in their own language. As powwows have become more inter-tribal, most drums (each group of singers is called a drum) sing songs in "vocables," which provide recognizable refrains that become familiar to all and are easier to learn. But, many Native nations that still have Native speakers, such as the Passamaquoddy and Abenaki, are working hard to preserve their languages, so it was especially refreshing to hear Larry Spotted Crow Mann, and his young sons, singing in their Nipmuc tongue.
In this part of the country, where European contact came earlier, and where being Indian often lead to aboriginal people suffering prejudice and discrimination, many people whose ancestry was Native, or Native and European, did not grow up in their respective cultures.
Sometimes, parents tried to shield youngsters from harm by asking that they claim only their French or other ethnic ancestry, essentially "passing" as white. For such people, the powwow is often their first opportunity to experience what, to many of them, seems a lost piece of their souls.
The recent Agawam Powwow was only the first in this summer's series of events that are an easy drive for local residents seeking to reconnect with those roots, or for non-Natives who simply want to know more about Native traditions.