Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Reflections on the Week and the Indigenous History of Boston Harbor

Hello! Thank you for coming back to read my blog!

    Our fourth week of work was another wonderful week out in the harbor. On Monday we had a staff training and bonding day that included a morning out kayaking in the Fort Point Channel. We spent several hours out on the water picking up trash and spending time as a team. Tuesday through Thursday my team ran our regular programming at Blacks Creek in Quincy and at the Curley Community Center in South Boston.
     The most memorable day of the week was Thursday. We had a smaller group of campers than usual, but those that came out impressed me. It was raining fairly hard and a reasonably cold day out, but we still had an absolute blast. It was too cold to go in the water so we played gaga ball for a long time, checked our crab trap, and finally sought refuge under a shelter to play some more games. Some of our campers did not have very warm layers on but they were still incredibly smiley and had such a positive attitude. My favorite part was playing a game where we had to talk to each other but couldn’t show our teeth. This results in a lot of funny-sounding laughter. Try to laugh hard without showing your teeth, it is truly a challenge!

Some of our campers playing our favorite game, gaga ball.
     This week we were asked to learn more about the history of Boston Harbor. I was excited to do so, as I am not from the area and don’t know a lot other than the iconic revolutionary war history of the area. While the role of Boston in the Revolutionary War had important impacts on our country’s history, we concentrate so much on the struggle against the British that we often overlook the history of the indigenous peoples before and during this time.
     I was fascinated to learn the complex history of indigenous use of the Boston Harbor Islands and the abuse they later suffered. The harbor islands were inhabited by indigenous people for part of the year as well as used for social and cultural ceremonies. The Massachusetts tribe were the predominant inhabitants of this area. It is important to acknowledge that the Massachusetts people, who are still here today, have a millenniums-long connection to this land and deeply ingrained values of environmental stewardship. Today we are fighting to combat problems, such as pollution, that largely did not exist before European settlers came to the United States.
     The centuries following the arrival of Europeans have been largely filled with death and oppression. Beginning when colonists first arrived in the greater Boston area the indigenous peoples were decimated by fighting and sickness, and those that survived were pressured to convert to Christianity. Those that did convert were known as “Praying Indians” and often lived in towns alongside Europeans. Others resisted giving up their native spirituality and did not convert.
Maps of the historical native settlements and tribe areas, created by UMass.
     In 1675 King Philip’s War broke out between the European Settlers and the Native Peoples of New England. It was an extremely horrific war, considered to be one of the deadliest wars in US history based on the percentage of the population killed. During the war, the Boston Harbor Islands were used as an internment camp for thousands of Indigenous Peoples. Most were incarcerated on Deer Island, but evidence suggests others were sent to, Peddocks Island, Long Island and one of the Brewster islands. Many of these Native Americans perished due to inadequate shelter and provisions, exacerbated by the fact that they were held there over the winter.
     King Philip’s War is viewed as the last major push by the Native Americans to remove European Settlers from the area. Since this time, Indigenous peoples have continued to face myriad forms of oppression in the greater Boston area and the country as a whole. In examining the history and current affairs of the area it is important to remember the historical stewardship native peoples gave to the land as well as the injustices they have faced. Even today they are still fighting for recognition. There is a present-day push for recognition of and protection for native burial grounds in and around the Boston Harbor Islands.

Until next week,

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