Native Village
Youth and Education news
Volume 1, November 2011

Native perspective : Seeing a "missing link"
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Massachusetts:  Tim and Tom Turner are twin brothers. In April, 2010, they launched "Native Plymouth Tours.'' The tours showcase what many Pilgrim-intensive tours lack -- the perspective of Native Americans who lived in the Plymouth area long before white men.

"We figured this was needed,'' said Tim, 37, a Cherokee who came to Plymouth as a young boy. He now manages the Wampanoag home site at Plimoth Plantation. "We saw the missing link. There's so much on Pilgrims, but not natives, unless you go to the plantation. Here, we go to spots highlighting native life and give a native spin.''

In the early 1600s, more than 10,000 Wampanoags lived in the area. When a plague wiped out thousands of  them, the survivors fled the area. 

"The Pilgrims came here, saw the bones [of the natives who had perished], and said it was God's providence that cleared the land for them,'' Turner said. "That really stresses how bad it must have been: Native Americans are very respectful of their dead and would never have ordinarily just left bodies behind like that.''

Roughly 5,000 to 7,000 Wampanoag live in the area today.

native01_0428kkNative Plymouth offers a 90-minute walk that tells the story of the Wampanoags who thrived here. There are roughly a dozen stops, including the statue of Massasoit, a legendary Wampanoag leader; the Nemasket Trail, a former 15-mile-long native link to today's Middleborough; and the home site of Hobbamocan. Hobbamocan was an English-speaking Wampanoag who served as ambassador and translator and may have been a spy for his fellow natives.

Tim especially loves to give tours to young people.  "They're like a sponge - they want to learn, they want to hear,'' he said.

When the tour reaches Massasoit's statue, Tim points out the upright feather and side knife that Massasoit would not have worn. Turner also points out that Massasoit's actual native name was Osaamequin, meaning "great leader."

"He was not the leader of all the Wampanoag; he was chief of one Wampanoag village about 30 miles away, one village of 69,'' Turner said. "But he was a wise man and many sought his advice, so a lot think he was leader of them all.''

A surprising fact to many, Turner said, is that "half of the chiefs of those villages were women.''

Turner's also point out the flora and fauna that was so appealing to natives and Pilgrims. The common jewelweed plant was used for medicine and treat poison ivy; red clay was used to dye clothing and body paint; cattail stems were woven into mats for sleeping and to make walls for summer shelters.

Native Male From Southern New England circa 1600He stresses that any time natives took an animal's life, they used every bit for food, clothing, and shelter.

Some history is grisly. A plaque on Leyden Street outlines the death of Massasoit's son, Metacomet (also known as King Philip). Metacomet's head was impaled on a stake that stood for 20 years near the Pilgrims' fort as a warning to other natives. Massasoit's wife and son were sold into slavery.

"Bad history doesn't get told,'' Tim said. "They tell wonderful stories, nice history prevails over black eyes, but in recent years, books and teachers have been getting much better at telling the true stories.''

Tim said "Native Plymouth's"  tours are presented as neutrally as possible, "letting people make their own decisions.''

While the Turner brothers are Cherokee, they have long been immersed in the Wampanoag culture. They came to Plymouth when they were 2 1/2 years old and were mainstays at the plantation in their youth. They befriended a native who worked there, Nanepashemet, who has since died.

"We had no father, and he became a father figure to us,'' Tim Turner said. "We went every day and on weekends, and when I got old enough, they finally hired me."

Yankee Magazine gave Native Plymouth Tours an Editor's Choice Award in its annual travel guide.

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