Student artists use native plants to tell story of Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe

August 25, 2021

PLYMOUTH – Dozens of edible plants have been identified in the stretch of Cedarville woods that the town returned to the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe in 2019. Many make fine art supplies as well.

Local students collected several varieties of berries along with wildflowers, grasses and tree and shrub leaves earlier this month as part of a project to help reshape the conversation about the tribe and its place in history.

The group of art students from both local high schools toured the six-acre site around Dina Path to kick off a three-day workshop aimed at teaching about the tribe through art. It is the latest in a series of honeycomb art projects taking shape around town and will go on display at Pilgrim Hall Museum sometime this fall.

Hannah Caple examines a sassfras plant while collecting material for an art project at Dina Path, a Native burying ground in Cedarville.
Art students and their teachers collect plants for their art project on the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe along Dina Path in Cedarville.

Meclina Gomes and Jennifer Edwards of the Community Art Collaborative teamed with the tribe, local schools and Pilgrim Hall to develop the project. It aims to pull back the veil of history and take an honest look at the people who lived in Plymouth before European colonization and how their ancestors were mistreated and forgotten.

At the center is Dina Path, a trail behind Elmer Raymond Field that travels up to an old tribal burying ground.

Melissa Ferretti, president and chairlady of the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe, talks about the history of Dina Path, a Native burying ground in Cedarville. Ferretti's granddaughter, Ava Hannigan, looks on.
Dina Path takes its name from Dina Chummuc, a member of the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe, who died at age 19 in 1840.

Once known as Lakewood Cemetery, the site hold the remains of a Herring Pond Wampanoag woman named Dina Chummuc, who died at age 19 in 1840. The cemetery holds the marked remains of at least seven other members of the tribe.

Tribal elders believe as many as 50 members of the Herring Pond Wampanoag community may be buried there.

Melissa Ferretti, president of the tribe, led the student artists and their teachers to the site  and explained how the cemetery was part of 2,400 acres of land that had been taken from her people by the state long ago.

Plymouth returned the land to the tribe by acclamation at Town Meeting two year ago and the tribe is now in the process of documenting and refurbishing the known grave sites, some of which were the victims of vandalism over the years.

Ferrretti said the tribe will be learning how to restore the existing gravestone markers and will be trying to document exactly how many people are buried there. The process will take time and money.

Donna Curtin, executive director of Pilgrim Hall Museum, talks to art students about the historical significance of their project on the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe.
Meclina Gomes, co-founder of the Community Art Collaborative, shows off a blackberry that will be used as dye for the art project.

The tribe is also in the process of restoring the network of trails behind Raymond Field that run from the cemetery around a man-made pond in the shadow of Route 3. The trails remain open during the work as part of the tribe’s connection with nature and provided plenty of native art supplies.

Tribal leaders introduced students to sweet fern, giving them whiffs of the plant the Wampanoags use as a natural insect repellent and in smoking herring. Students were also exposed to the mitten-like leaves of the sassafras tree and sweet-smelling roots.

The students collected baskets of blackberries, raspberries and goldenrod for dyes and flowers, pine cones, needles and leaves for texture to help them tell the story of the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe through art.

Art students from Plymouth North and Plymouth South high schools worked on the art installation in class after collecting materials in the field.
Plymouth South High School student Lana Yee shows the plant material she will use in the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe art project.

After one day of collecting plants and materials, they would spend two more days creating honeycomb-shaped pieces of art that reflect the tribe and its history.

Mike Caple, director of the school district’s visual and performing arts department, said the work represents efforts to connect students with authentic experiences that reflect the true culture of Plymouth, not some caricature of the past with a feathered-headband.

Edwards said the project is about “honoring and understanding all of our history and working together to respectfully bring forward the tribe that has been here from the beginning.”

Art students visited Herring Pond Wampanoag land in Cedarville to collect plant material for an art project on the tribe.
Plymouth South High School student Maren Dudley collects raspberries to use as red dye for the art project.

“This is about visibility and having open and sometimes uncomfortable conversations, but also recognizing that we can do that, and by helping our youth understand the community they come from, we all grow,” she said.

Ferretti said the tribe was delighted to partner with Community Art Collaborative, noting that education about, and for, tribal nations is crucial.

“We, the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe, are committed to ensuring that our history, our achievements and our goals as a Tribe are known to the non-Native public, and particularly to educators, residents and civic leaders in Plymouth and Barnstable counties and North America as a whole,” Ferretti said.