Plymouth Wampanoags Among US- Melissa Harding Ferretti

February 18, 2020

By Emily Clark
Posted May 13, 2019 at 12:00 PM   

“I’m a member of the Herring Pond Wampanoag tribe. I am the current president chairwoman of that tribe.”

“I’m a member of the Herring Pond Wampanoag tribe. I am the current president chairwoman of that tribe. I am a descendent of Love Saunders and Harriet Little Saunders Harding. I am great-granddaughter of Caleb S. Harding. He was born in 1871. I am the granddaughter of Bernard Harding Sr. and daughter to Bernard Marsden Harding Jr.

“My sister Brenda and I were raised in Cedarville on Herring Pond Road in Plymouth by an elder of the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe, our great aunt Verna Harding. She was born in 1905 on this wonderful land and she was actually born on the Herring River lot, which is down in Bournedale. Part of it is in Plymouth; part of it is in Bourne.

“She was my father’s great aunt. Everybody in Cedarville knew Verna. She was an avid outdoorsman – fishing, hunting, all of that. It was a big part of our lives. When herring season began, that was a big deal and you better be ready for it. Verna, she would prepare the herring once she caught them, then she would smoke them in a little shed in our back yard. She would take sticks she whittled by hand and push the herring through the eyes and she would line them all up in a nice row and she would hang them up above. And then she would send my sister Brenda and I out in the woods to gather the plants that were necessary. We knew we had to get some pine and we knew sweet fern was necessary and we put all these things in a metal bucket and she would light this fire in the shed in the back yard, oftentimes bringing the fire department to the back yard. And Verna didn’t really take much grief. She would send them packing and might say some colorful metaphors. So, eventually they just gave up and they would just come and sort of watch every year when she did the herring so she didn’t catch the town on fire.

“We were at 2 Herring Pond Road. It was a little house and everybody used to remember us – the girls that lived under the billboard, right under that billboard in a tiny house that was there. Right across from Sunoco, right across the street.

“Verna was a Christian and she was a woman of God, and Verna always made sure we had communion; they would come to the house. It was Baptist. We spent a lot of time going to the Pondville Indian Church. It’s the New Life Baptist Church currently. We rent them the building. The Pondville Baptist Corporation owns it. It is the Herring Pond Wampanoag who started that corporation.

“Obviously, I grew up in the town of Plymouth. Up until 11th grade I was in the Plymouth school system.

“Verna spoke about racism quite a bit. As I said, it wasn’t always OK to be Native American and a lot of the natives had darker skin, so people would assume they were black when they were also Native American.

“When it comes to 2020, I definitely appreciate what they’re doing. I definitely respect the Mayflower descendants and what they’re trying to accomplish.

“But there is still a great sense of sadness for me the more I look into the registry of deeds for instance. You key in ‘Herring Pond Tribe’ or you key in ‘Indian lands’ and it’s not hard to determine right away that there’s a lot of things that happened to us over the years that are left unexplained. Like the lands – where did they go? How were they transferred? Why is there nothing left? Were the transfers done legally? These are questions we ask ourselves each day. Up until today, we still find ourselves trying to regain some of these lands that belong to us.

“I think they’re doing a better job this celebration as to including the Wampanoag people and trying to ensure that the story is told. I think, coming from a tribal descendant of the Plymouth tribe of Indians, 2020 is a hard question. I mean, we’re going to participate. We’re going to have a flag in the parade. But, does it excite me? Not really. I don’t know. I think the loss is huge and I think that to celebrate the town – of course, I grew up here. I love this town. I was raised here. All my memories as a child are in Plymouth. We had Mrs. Henry, who was the dean of girls and we experienced all of that, but we really weren’t taught about our own heritage in the Plymouth School system either. It wasn’t talked about. Although I appreciate all the work that everyone is doing for the 2020 commemoration, I can’t say that it’s something that I think about daily and I can’t wait to attend.

“I think the Herring Pond community – I’m not sure conquered is the word I’d use for what happened. I mean, obviously, we were afraid. I mean, if Myles Standish lived two streets over from you, you’d be afraid too. So, I think that, with the history, with the tribe knowing what was going on in Plymouth Colony and with the repercussions of King Philip’s War, we were smart and we stayed in our little spot and we kept our mouths shut. We prayed and we were easily converted because we had to be, in my opinion. There wasn’t a choice for us. We were ground zero, right in the center of it, so we did not have that ability to be further away and to keep some of our traditions like some of the other tribes that were on the island or that were on the Cape. We didn’t have that opportunity.

“I think for the Herring Pond Wampanoag Community, I think we just want to be heard. We’re often removed from our own story and we feel that our story is somewhat told by others. And it’s our story. To hear the story told so many times, over and over again, and exclude us from it, that’s kind of a slap in the face. Our tribe was the Herring Pond Indian tribe and we were in the town of Plymouth. At one time, we were all one nation, the Herring Pond tribe really gathered together after this allotment and after King Philip’s War. So, I’m still learning my history myself as I go and as I lead as chairperson. Part of my job is to learn the history. But the more I read, the more I want people to know about the Herring Pond people and that they know that we were right in the center of it.

“We want to reconnect to our traditions, our language, our history, and want to protect what little remains of our sacred places. If we are not to be erased, we must end the silence, assert our rights, tell our story, reclaim our history and fix the false narratives.

“I think we’re misunderstood. People picture pow-wows and deer skins and buckskin clothing and flutes and drums and all those ceremonies and traditions, and some were lost for us, and we’re regaining those and they’re very sacred, but being American and a Wampanoag itself, it’s not an event. We’re native but we’re also Americans and, just like everyone else, we all have jobs, we’re CEOs, we’re Realtors, lawyers, doctors, teachers, laborers, veterans. And like everybody else we pay taxes and earn money so we can provide for our families.”