Bourne’s Herring Pond Tribe Wants Its History Heard

August 17, 2022

Melissa Ferretti, chairwoman of the Herring Pond Tribe, points to a photo of her Aunt Hazel and Cousin Troy, shown center wearing traditional regalia.By CALLI REMILLARD

Like most stories, history can change depending on who is telling it. And for a long time, members of the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe let their history be told for them.

But now, they want to tell it themselves.

Melissa A. Ferretti, chairwoman of the tribe and recently elected select board member in Bourne, gave a talk on the history of the Herring Pond Tribe to a packed house at the Lyons Family Pavilion on evening, August 10, at the Aptucxet Trading Post, where more than 50 people were in attendance.

Ms. Ferretti opened the event with a traditional greeting in the way of the “Seeqanamâquhpâhqut,” the Wampanoag name for the Herring Pond Tribe. She also introduced the tribal council and committee members, some of whom were in attendance, including medicine man and acting chief Troy Currence.

“I am a Herring Pond Wampanoag mother and grandmother,” her slideshow read, “raised by an elder of my tribe in Cedarville, a small village in the town of Plymouth. I have lived on my homelands all my life.”

Showing a map that illustrated the Herring Pond Lands post-Colonial contact, Ms. Ferretti explained that the tribe once had about 3,000 acres, almost all of which has since been taken away.

Great Lot, in what is now Plymouth, was about 2,600 acres. The meetinghouse lot, which is now the site of the Pondville Meeting house, is about 200 acres, and the Herring River lot in Bourne, known as “the valley,” is about 400 acres.

“The divided lands post-allotment was about 3,000 acres. We all know the romanticized Pilgrim story. We hear the stories of the King Philip’s War, we hear Wampanoag people, but what many don’t know is about the different tribes that are actually still here today and still live on their traditional homelands. The Herring Pond Wampanoag Indians—as we were called at the time—as you can see, we’re still here.”

The 3,000 acres of land that were originally supposed to belong to the tribe forever, Ms. Ferretti said, were taken and split up during the allotment period, becoming 111 individual parcels.

“This was imposed on us,” she said, “as were taxation and all those other things that were very foreign to Wampanoag people.”

Three meetinghouses were built for the tribe, with the purpose of preaching the Christian gospel. The first was in Bournedale, at the site of what is now called Burying Hill. A second meetinghouse built was said to have been overrun by “black snakes,” which made way for the third meetinghouse, which still stands on Herring Pond Road at Pondville in Plymouth. It was built after the Herring Pond Tribe petitioned the state for its own meetinghouse.

“We were asking to be afforded a schoolhouse like our sister tribe, Mashpee, had been,” Ms. Ferretti said. “This church was the center of our existence then, and it still is today. We meet there; our tribal meetings are there; we have full care and custody of the building. It’s amazing. Against all odds, it still belongs to us.”

In 1694, the Massachusetts government placed all native people on reservation lands under the authority of colonial officials. In 1685, the recorded population of the Herring Pond Tribe was 120. By 1825, that population had dwindled to 40.

“What I always say [is] that I’m not a historian,” Ms. Ferretti said. “I’ve learned this work from the time I’ve spent trying to educate the public and to bring awareness to the Herring Pond people. I feel strongly that there’s no quicker way to erase yourself than not speaking out, so it’s been part of my mission as chairwoman to really get into a place where I can explain and talk about our history to the public.”

Ms. Ferretti spoke about her desire to create a digital heritage project for the tribe, using many of the historical documents she has viewed at the Massachusetts Archives in Boston. She has spent time at the Archives, sifting through documents and transcribing accounts from colonial men who logged their experiences with indigenous tribes. Her presentation at Aptucxet included images of those historical logs, which illustrated the imposition of colonial ideas such as debt and taxation on native people. Using various maps, Ms. Ferretti showed the way land changed hands over time, where Wampanoag and Pilgrim trails were, and marked important Wampanoag landmarks. One day, she said, she would like to create a map project that tells the story of the native tribes and their interactions with the Pilgrims.

“The Herring Pond Tribe, we’re here today,” she said, “but we now take the challenge on of preserving what remains of those lands.”

In a recent bid to get some of their land back, the Herring Pond Tribe petitioned the Town of Plymouth to give back six acres of Dina Path Cemetery, a tribal burying ground, in Cedarville in Plymouth. In it, there are seven marked stones and eight graves.

“To our surprise, with a 100 percent vote, we were deeded back that land,” Ms. Ferretti said. “It was pretty amazing to see that because you go in and we had no idea how we were going to be perceived. We just want to care for the people who are buried there, and we want our sacred land back.”

Ms. Ferretti said a lot of work is being done on that six-acre parcel today, but taking back the traditional land is still hard work.

“We have to sometimes reteach ourselves these things because we walk in two worlds,” she said. “We have our traditional cultural things that we really care about and are really important to us, but we also live in the world that we are in now, in this contemporary life. So we adjust to all of that.”

Ms. Ferretti also discussed various projects the tribe has undertaken, including a language reclamation project and a traditional ecological knowledge project, in addition to mapping its heritage using digitized documents.

The tribe is also working to be federally recognized like its sister tribe in Mashpee, which usually incurs a cost of well over $1 million. Herring Pond Tribe is recognized by the state, Ms. Ferretti said, but she would like to pursue federal recognition should it have the capacity.