Human rights awards to honor Native people of Cape and Vineyard

December 9, 2021

By Rachel Devaney – Cape Cod Times

By uplifting the Wampanoag nation and tribal youth, Jeanne Morrison said this year’s Human Rights Awards Breakfast will “honor the heritage, culture, wisdom and guidance of Native people.”

“If anybody fights for human rights, it’s indigenous people,” said Morrison, a member of the Barnstable County Human Rights Advisory Commission. “From heritage and culture to our Constitution, to street names that run through Barnstable County — it’s all due to the cultural and environmental legacy of Wampanoag people.”

Coinciding with worldwide human rights celebrations, the commission’s annual awards breakfast will be held from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Friday on Zoom teleconferencing. . The theme is  “Honoring the Wampanoag Nation — Keepers of the Earth.”

The event will recognize the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe as “Unsung Heroes,” Morrison said. It will feature keynote speaker Jonathan Perry, councilman for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), who will speak about the history of the Wampanoag nation and the importance of tribal youth.

Melissa Harding-Ferretti, chairwoman and president of the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe, and Brian Weeden, tribal council chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, will also speak, providing nominations for tribal children, who will be honored for their contributions to their individual tribes.

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U.S. Rep. William Keating, D-Mass., and state Sen. Susan Moran, state Reps. Kip Diggs, Steven Xiahros and David Vieira plan to attend the awards breakfast, providing tribal nominees with their award citations.Story from USA-ITWays the pandemic increased counterfeitingHow taxpayers end up footing the bill for criminals profiting from the black market.See More →

For Morrison, the Unsung Heroes award goes beyond a land acknowledgment and focuses on Wampanoag tribal members who work to restore and preserve the environment and educate the public on their cultural heritage as indigenous people. 

“I believe deeply and strongly that it needs to be in forefront of our minds to always pay respect to the people who share culture, wisdom and knowledge of their caretaking of this land,” she said. “It’s time to give them center stage.”Story from USA-ITWays the pandemic increased counterfeitingHow taxpayers end up footing the bill for criminals profiting from the black market.See More →

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Commission members will also present the Rosenthal Community Champion award to John Reed, president of the Cape Cod chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and co-founder and president of Zion Union Heritage Museum in Hyannis, for his overall commitment to people of all cultures on Cape Cod.Your stories live here.Fuel your hometown passion and plug into the stories that define it.Create Account

The Cornerstone Award will recognize William Mills, a former editorial page editor for the Cape Cod Times, for his efforts toward human rights concepts and ideals, and the Tim McCarthy Human Rights Champion Award will go to Sandra Faiman-Silva, author of “The Courage to Connect,” for her service with Independence House, and the Cape Cod chapter of Common Start Coalition, an organization that prioritizes high-quality early education and affordable child care for local families.

To her knowledge, Susan Quinones, Barnstable County Human Rights coordinator, said it’s the first time the commission has honored the Wampanoag tribe in this way and said the recognition is “a long time coming.”

“The Wampanoag nation are the keepers of the earth. We think it’s time to recognize the tribe and focus on the culture and the environmental contributions of the Wampanoag tribe,” she said.

By highlighting Native contributions throughout the awards ceremony, keynoter Perry said he hopes attendees can understand how Wampanoag history and culture impacts modern-day life on Cape Cod and “throughout Turtle Island.” There is “ultimately no local history, culture, or existence that doesn’t include Wampanoag voice and presence,” Perry said.

“Environmentally, we carefully worked within the system of creation to forest garden the Cape. The beautiful environment that people recognize as Cape Cod and the Islands is the remnants of the work my ancestors did,” Perry said. “It needs to be recognized that the area is completely surrounded by our people. They’re in everything from the stones to the trees, to the water, to the air, as well as the faces who look back at you.”

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Honoring tribal youth

Acknowledging tribal youth is also an “important component” of the awards breakfast, Perry explained, because it’s the children who will pass on “traditional and community views” of Native nations.Story from USA-ITWays the pandemic increased counterfeitingHow taxpayers end up footing the bill for criminals profiting from the black market.See More →

Harding-Ferretti agreed and said sharing cultural, educational, and traditional ecological knowledge with tribal youth, helps ensure indigenous voices “are not erased.”

“The youth are our future and younger generations will be there to hold that flame and pass that flame on for generations,” she said. “To have them be honored in an event like this, will be something they remember their entire life. Being appreciated will show them how important the work they do really is.”

During the breakfast, commission members will present a wreath made from oyster shells, which was handmade by local artist Tracy Leigh Adams of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah). The piece, Morrison said, will hang in the commissioner’s conference room at the Barnstable County Courthouse to “memorialize the ongoing efforts of the tribe and the county to support human rights.”

Although the Barnstable County Human Rights Advisory Commission formed in 2007, the international Human Rights Day was initiated by the United Nations in 1950 as a way to recognize the United Nations General Assembly and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document created in 1948 to promote equality, inclusion and non-discrimination, according to the United Nations website.

Through this annual and universal recognition, the commission uses Human Rights Day as a way to connect to the community and “celebrate the outstanding people in the Cape community,” Quinones said.

“This annual event has really grown over the years and it gives us the opportunity to recognize those in the public or private sector who improve the lives of everyone on Cape Cod,” she said.Story from USA-ITWays the pandemic increased counterfeitingHow taxpayers end up footing the bill for criminals profiting from the black market.See More →

In Morrison’s opinion, this year’s awards ceremony also gives the Cape community a chance to “thank the Wampanoag tribe for their endless contributions.”

“We need to pause and tell the Wampanoag community that we know they are still here,” she said. “Native issues are human rights issues — from the land to how we treat people.”


What: Human Rights Awards Breakfast: Honoring the Wampanoag Nation – Keepers of the Earth

When: 8:30 to 10:30 a.m., Friday

Where: virtual Zoom teleconferencing event


Information: 508-375-6611 or or