PLYMOUTH, Mass. – Native Americans in Massachusetts are calling for a boycott of a popular living history museum featuring colonial re-enactors depicting life in Plymouth, the famous English colony founded by the Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower.
Members of the state’s Wampanoag community and their supporters say the Plimoth Patuxet Museums have failed to deliver on their promise to create a “bicultural museum” that also tells the story of the European and Indigenous peoples who lived there.
They say the “Patuxet Historic Site”, the mostly open-air part of the museum focusing on traditional Aboriginal life, is insufficiently small, in need of repairs and staffed by workers who are not from local tribes.
“We’re saying don’t hang out there, don’t work there,” said Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe member Camille Madison on Martha’s Vineyard, who was among those who recently expressed their frustrations on social media. “We don’t want to engage with them until they find a way to respect Indigenous knowledge and experience.”
The concerns come just two years after the museum changed its name from Plimoth Plantation to Plimoth Patuxet as part of a year-long celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower landing.
At the time, the museum said the “new, more balanced” moniker reflected the importance of the Indigenous perspective to the 75-year-old institution’s educational mission.
“Patuxet” was an indigenous community near “Plimoth”, as the Pilgrim Colony was known before it became modern Plymouth. It was badly decimated by European diseases when the Mayflower arrived, but one of its survivors, Tisquantum, commonly known as Squanto, helped English settlers survive their first winter.
“They changed the name but didn’t change the attitude,” said Paula Peters, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe who worked for nearly 20 years at the museum, most recently as its marketing director. “They didn’t do anything to please the tribes. Every step they take is deaf.”
Museum spokesman Rob Kluin, in an emailed statement to The Associated Press, said the museum expanded the Wampanoag outdoor exhibit, raised more than $2 million for a new program building and had “several initiatives in place” to recruit and retain Aboriginal staff. communities. He declined to elaborate.
The statement also cited a pair of grants the museum has received to bolster its Native American educational programming. This included more than $160,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to host a workshop this summer for teachers on how to incorporate Indigenous voices into their history lessons.
The museum also noted that its new director of Algonquian exhibits and interpretation is an Aquinnah Wampanoag who sits on his tribe’s education committee.
Carol Pollard, whose late brother Anthony “Nanepashemet” Pollard played a key role in developing the museum’s Indigenous programming as a leading Wampanoag historian, was among those dismayed by the state of the site.
Last week, large gaps were evident in the battered treebark roof of the large wetu, or traditional Wampanoag dwelling, which is a focal point of the Aboriginal exhibit. Neither of the two museum interpreters on site wore traditional tribal attire. Meanwhile, in the pilgrim settlement portion of the museum, the thatched roofs of colonial houses had recently been repaired and many re-enactors walked around in detailed period outfits.
“I know my brother would be very disappointed,” said Pollard, who also worked as a gardener at the museum until last summer. “I guarantee you people in khakis and navy tops weren’t my brother’s vision.”
Former museum staff say museum officials for years ignored their suggestions to modernize and expand the outdoor exhibit, which will mark its 50th anniversary next year.
This, combined with low wages and poor working conditions, led to the departure of many long-serving Aboriginal employees who made the program a must-see attraction by showcasing agriculture, cooking, canoe building and other authentic indigenous cultural practices, they say.
“For more than a decade now, the museum has systematically dismantled the outdoor exhibit,” the Wampanoag Consulting Alliance, an Indigenous group that includes Peters and other former museum staff, said in a statement at the end. of last month. “Many measures taken to ensure equal representation of Wampanoag programming have been removed and the physical exhibit is in a deplorable state. The result has been the virtually complete alienation of Wampanoag communities.”
Kitty Hendricks-Miller, a Mashpee Wampanoag who was a supervisor of the Wampanoag exhibit in the 1990s and early 2000s, says she worries about what non-Indigenous families and students get out of their visits to the museum. , which remains a rite of passage school trip for many in New England.
As the Indian Education Coordinator for her tribe, she encourages teachers to reach out to Native communities directly if they are looking for culturally and historically accurate curricula.
“There’s this reluctance to recognize that times have changed,” said Casey Figueroa, who worked for years as an interpreter at the museum until 2015. “The Aboriginal side of Plymouth’s history has so much more to offer in terms of the issues we’re facing today, from immigration to racism and climate change, but instead they backed off.