Respect the Wampanoags


To the Editor:

I keep up with the happenings and kerfuffle on Martha’s Vineyard via the MV Times website. I am always interested to know what is going on in my homeland, and what’s what.

Today I read a Letter to the Editor (Oct. 20, “Wampanoag Tribe responds, says reporting unfair, comments racist”) which was authored by my cousin and tribesman, Tobias J. Vanderhoop, about the disparaging comments made about my tribe, its government, etc. I would like to say the following:

The Wampanoag Nation has a proud tradition of hospitality and cooperation. We have always cared for and welcomed any and all. We have believed that sharing is caring, since time remembered. I do not believe that there is a greedy one amongst us.

It is fine to maintain freedom of speech and to maintain one’s own opinion. However, some things are best left unsaid. Sometimes, it does more damage to have a loose tongue than to put a leash on your thoughts. We must always consider our friends and neighbors and recognize that not all of us believe as the next one does. After all, we are all God’s children.

Martha’s Vineyard is Noepe. It has always been Noepe. Non-Native Americans are just guests on this continent of North America, and always have been. One does not have the right to invade someone’s homeland and to destroy established cultures, societies, etc. — this is not acceptable. But in accordance with our ways, we have accepted you. Now respect us.

My own precious mother is the epitome of racism against Native Americans. Her parents were not permitted to marry because my grandmother’s parents were beside themselves when a man of a different race (my grandfather) wanted to marry his pregnant girlfriend (my grandmother). Let me tell you, my mother suffered inexplicably from that. And my brothers and I have suffered as well. Now, in accordance with my culture and the wishes of my family, I will not go into the particulars, but I will say that it was a hard thing for all of us to deal with. Yet we have overcome.

I remember when I was a freshman at MVRHS and met a couple of my aunts, and an uncle of mine. I was floored; it was surreal. We (my family and I) had always wondered who my grandfather was and who we were, but my Nana (bless her heart and soul) never spoke up. So, I was determined to put my family back together in honor of my Nana and my grandpa. I was determined to right past wrongs made in hasty judgement by my great-grandparents, who obviously did not think about the exact effect of their decision. And let me say that that was the hardest thing that I have ever had to do in my entire life — the resistance from my own mother was excruciating, but I overcame. And then some of the citizens of the Wampanoag Nation of Aquinnah were convinced that my mother, my brothers, and I were just looking for a handout. Not so, and I had to fight my own people for admittance and acceptance into my birthright.

So when I see articles and opinions written disparagingly against my people, my country, and my family, it profoundly upsets me. I am one in a long line of enduring, strong, prospering people who simply want to love their families and support their clans and to maintain the fecundity of life.

I must implore all residents of Martha’s Vineyard to respect and revere the Wampanoag people. We have earned the right by our community spirit, our civic service, and by our unconditional spirit of hospitality. Haven’t we? Yes, I for one, think so.

James Occouch-Vanderhoop

San Diego