Wampanoags Among Us – Herring Pond Medicine Man Troy Currence
February 18, 2020
By Emily Clark
Posted Apr 22, 2019 at 10:00 AM
I live in Bourne. I am Wampanoag from my mother’s side and also Catawba (Native American) from my father’s side and so my bloodline here is I go back to my mom who is Hazel Harding Currence, and then I go back through her to my grandfather Maurice Belmont Harding.
This series features Pilgrim and Wampanoag descendants to honor Plymouth 400th Commemoration
Herring Pond Wampanoag Medicine Man Troy Currence
“I live in Bourne. I am Wampanoag from my mother’s side and also Catawba (Native American) from my father’s side, and so my bloodline here is I go back to my mom, who is Hazel Harding Currence, and then I go back through her to my grandfather Maurice Belmont Harding. They called him Buster – that’s was my grandfather – that was my man. Then it goes back to Harriet Harding Saunders. So that would be my great grandmother, and she was married to a Caleb Saunders. And that’s that bloodline as well, and from there it goes to Lotty, who was my grandmother. I used to be able to recite this back and forth but I’m getting older! We usually try to go back at least four – four from where you stand. So then, before that there’s another Caleb Harding, and there’s also Love Harding Saunders, and then it goes to Fowler. We come all the way back to Fowler, who was a Herring Pond Wampanoag.
“I’m the medicine man for the Herring Pond community. My area historically would have been from here, like in Plymouth. We had land that we lost to taxes. I don’t know how that happened, but from Long Pond all the way down to Herring Pond. Everyone’s familiar with cranberry bogs and A.D. Makepeace – that’s part of the Herring Pond reservation – Sandy Pond, Herring Pond, all that area through there.
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“Well it’s always been weird. When you’re younger you don’t always appreciate it. There used to be a lady in Onset and she used to always say to me, ‘Oh I know who you are.’ I was like young, maybe 6. And she was like, ‘Oh, you’re an old Indian, an old Indian.’ And I was like, ‘What the hell is wrong with this lady?’ This is like the ’70s, the beginnings of the ’80s, and she used to always say that to me, and I used to be so mad because I had curly hair and I’m like, ‘I’m black! I’m black and I’m not old.’ I identified as black. I knew I was mixed too. So now, after I got my name and all these things I came back here in 1986 and became more involved. I was like 14 going to high school.
“I was born in Germany and grew up in England, and I also grew up in South America, and my other place was out west in Albuquerque, New Mexico. My dad was in the military. He was a tech sergeant for the Air Force. I was born in Frankfurt County in Germany and lived in RAF, that’s the Royal Air Force base in Wethersfield. I was here for first and second grade and then moved away. I’ve been here off and on and have always had a connection to the Cape and the area. It’s weird though because I never really came to Plymouth. I always had a bad taste about Plymouth. I never really liked it.
“No one has ever said anything bad about Plymouth. My grandfather grew up here – like the big cemetery when you’re coming in on the other side on that road over there. It’s just the energy; I just never liked it.
“It’s just a feeling I had. Only in the last couple years with my daughter and having accepted the culture have I come here. Usually when I come here to Massassoit’s statue I leave tobacco for the ancestors. But there was something about Plymouth I just never really liked. I like it now because my ancestors are from here and my people are from here. My family originally came from here. I can’t think of the terminology. It’s not DNA pain I have; it’s generational pain.
“It took years for me to come here. One year they asked me to open up the traditional Wampanoag parade and I did on Thanksgiving Day. That was a couple years ago when I did it. I still come every now and then. It’s taken on a different meaning. The real traditional Wamps show up early and leave tobacco and sing their songs and we get out of here before everyone else jumps in.
“I think it’s kind of lost its meaning. There are just so many different heartaches that have happened here that I think everyone tries to align with that, with their own mission. They come with issues with discrimination against Muslims and issues with like gay rights or something else. Well this is a day of mourning for Native people. I’m not invalidating your mission, so if you’re here in support of our cause, that’s great. If it were a gay rights event, I’d come to support you. But this is about a day of mourning for Native people.
“It’s funny when I hear about occupation – that’s a bad term, but that’s kind of what happened. I wouldn’t say that happened with the first generation of people who came. They needed us to survive. They didn’t even know what they were doing, so we had to help them survive. We looked at that as people. They’re just people. The Creator made all of us. We all have rights to live and survive, and, I mean in our mind, you can’t own land. So we were like ‘You guys are starving and you don’t know how to take care of yourselves, so we’ll help you guys out and you can help us because we had enemies too – the Narragansett and things like that.’ So we’re kind of under pressure from different angles. But, over time, there’s more and more. There’s more people coming here and there wasn’t that same level of respect. They could overpower you and it’s kind of sad. So the town logo of Plymouth? What is it? America’s Hometown. I don’t like that saying. It’s really not the Hometown of America. We’re kind of like going: ‘Wait a minute, there was a hometown way before America.’
“It’s funny in history you think of, for example, nothing against the Mayflower Society or anything like that. They’re very proud of their heritage, as they should be. They see it as, ‘Well, we founded the country,’ and we’re kind of like, ‘How can you found something when people were already here? It was already found.’ And when people hear ‘Wampanoag,’ they think of Thanksgiving. They think of us helping people plant corn, and they think of casinos now. It’s not a good image. It’s like when you think of the Mayflower people you think of history and them overcoming everything. You think of Native people and you think of hardship today. They don’t think of us as, ‘Wow, these guys have been here thousands of years and these guys are still here. And they’re holding on to the culture and they’re, you know, going from a big huge population to a small population, but they’re still here and they’re still maintaining their history and their culture and at the same time still incorporating and growing with the times, with the evolution of society,’ you know? And it’s a little bit of a struggle, but no one ever acknowledges that – that ‘Wow, you guys are really kind of dancing in two shoes – American society versus your traditions.’ You don’t want to lose that and it’s hard sometimes and it’s a struggle. But I mean it’s a balance. We’re more like in harmony and balance with the earth; they’re all relative. If you over fish, it’s going to affect the rest of the ecosystem. It’s going to affect the environment. The trees filter the air and everything and how you breathe, and if you cut down all the trees and pollute the environment, we inhale all that stuff and it’s the same thing with the food.
“It’s more about conquering with the Europeans. It’s ‘Let me conquer. Let me take control,’ while the Native American is about blending in and equality, for the balance for everything.
“The European – basically, they imposed their religion on us. You had to cut your hair, you had to blend in and look more European. You couldn’t speak your languages; it was outlawed. I mean everything that was free and given to us by the Creator was taken. All the rules and laws – those things didn’t exist here like that. We lived great. We were always on vacation. We always ate well. We always had a good time with our family. A now it’s like you got to pay taxes and you’ve got to work to pay taxes and buy a car. They used their religion as a weapon, and, by contrast, we’re more accepting of other people’s religions or beliefs. We don’t impose our beliefs on others.”