Thomas Fantasia came across the collapsed Weety8 — a traditional tribal house — behind the tribal administration building on May 3, during one of his walkarounds in Aquinnah.
“I typically take walks around when I am visiting, because I live in Washington State, so I don’t get to get back home on the Island often,” Fantasia said. “I wanted to go and visit the Weety8 just to walk through it and be around it, and I happened to come across it almost being completely flattened.”
Fantasia took pictures of the Weety8 using his phone and posted them to the private Facebook page for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) — the Aquinnah Tribal Member Discussion Board. Fantasia’s cousin, Jonathan Perry, tribal councilman for the tribe, was one of the commenters. Perry wrote that the Weety8 collapsed over the winter, and that its frame was nearing the end of its life. “A lot in the community that saw [the Weety8] didn’t feel good about it,” Fantasia said. “Those of us that came together to clean it up, it was something that we wanted to do for the benefit of the community.”
Shortly after posting, Fantasia’s cousins Micah Washington and James Moreis both started Facebook group chats to gather volunteers to clean and salvage the Weety8 site, according to Fantasia. “Being able to make any sort of impact on the community and getting us younger folk together to start doing positive things in the community is really important,” Fantasia said.
On May 11, Moreis, Fantasia, and Michael Sellitti began to clean up the Weety8 site. Fantasia and Moreis posted the progress of the Weety8 cleanup to the Aquinnah Tribal Member Discussion Board, receiving positive feedback from the tribal community.
According to Perry, the Weety8 was first built in 2009 by members of the Aquinnah Wampanoag community. Perry assembled a team of Aquinnah men to travel as far as Virginia and other locations to harvest the poplar bark for the shingles, some of which were 6 feet by 6 feet. They had to cover the frame, which was 30 feet long by 14 feet wide.
Once the materials were on the Island, the leading builders that worked on the Weety8 were Hakeem Madison, Elizabeth James Perry, Andrew DeVido, James Moreis, Steven Craddock, Mark Andrews, Nefititi Jette, and Bettina Washington, and many other community members too numerous to mention, but equally important in the build. Community members assisted in preparing materials and building the structure for many years of use, Perry said during a phone interview with The Times.
In 2015, the Weety8 needed repairs, and Perry assembled another team of bark harvesters to travel and remove bark from poplar trees. This team consisted of Perry, Craddock, Moreis, and DeVido. Upon returning, former tribal rangers Tyler Moreis and Michael Sellitti assisted with the process, in addition to a number of the younger men in the community, including the late Hakeem Madison, Adahy Gonsalves, Serel Garvin, and Steven Garvin.
“A big driving factor after Thomas posted about [the Weety8] was one wanting to honor Hakeem, because he passed away in 2015 shortly after we built this Weety8, and it’s one of the last things he did for our community, and he was a really important person to me,” Sellitti said. “For me, it was about honoring his legacy and making sure that we continue to value that work that he gave to us, because you can’t put a price on something like that.”
Social media played a role in how quickly the word got out, because of the photos and video. According to Sellitti, they could have talked to the same number of people, but it wouldn’t have the same impact as the posted photos and videos on Facebook.
On May 12, Sellitti, Fantasia, James Moreis, Micah Washington, and Elijah Matthews finished cleaning up the Weety8 site. They took apart the Atlantic white cedar frame, and went through all the poplar bark shingles, sorting them into reusable full sheets and sections for gap fillers, and the rotten sheets were sorted out to be buried, composted, or burned out of respect for the creation.
The Atlantic white cedar poles were separated into a designated pile for reuse for the new Weety8, and any unused Atlantic white cedar wood was burned for ceremony, according to Sellitti.
The Wampanoag community used the Weety8 site for many events and programs — like the annual pageant that highlights tribal storytelling, the summer Turtle Camp for ages 6-12, the Afterschool Program, social dances, ceremonies, regalia making, language circle, and traditional cooking classes, and sometimes Black Brook singers would gather for a drum session.
“There’s something special and empowering for native people to be more enveloped in our ancestral, cultural identity, and being inside of an ancestral, traditional home is something that you can’t replicate anywhere else,” Sellitti said. “You have to be there to get that feeling.”
Fantasia said he wanted to assure the Aquinnah Wampanoag community that rebuilding the Weety8 would be taken care of, and a plan is in development to bring it back and restore it for the community.
Plans for the future of the Weety8 reconstruction are in development among the group of volunteers that worked on cleanup and the tribe’s cultural department.
Coordination of finding grant funding and other assistance to gather resources for the materials needed for the Weety8 restoration will be carried out in the cultural and planning departments as requested by members of the tribal community. In addition to the salvaged materials, some fresh building materials will have to be harvested. A timeline is currently in the works for the rebuilding process. The tribal government supports all activities.
Another crew is needed to help unload the materials from off-Island and begin the process of rebuilding the Weety8. Donations for the Weety8 rebuilding can be sent to the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) Tribal Historic Preservation Office, 20 Black Brook Road, Aquinnah, MA 02535.
Updated to correct the spelling of several names.