June Manning, who was cherished in many spheres of the Martha’s Vineyard community, died on Monday, Nov. 8, at the age of 74.
As an elder of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), a longtime historian and collector of knowledge, and a champion and teacher of Wampanoag culture, the impact of her death is felt across the Island.
In a statement on behalf of the tribe, tribal council Chairwoman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais wrote that the entire community is saddened by the news of Manning’s passing. “An active member of the tribe her entire life, June has been a constant in our community for decades. She served our tribal community in so many capacities; as a member of multiple advisory committees, as well as an employee. She was our resident genealogist, and of course, our community newscaster,” Andrews-Maltais wrote.
Manning was a columnist for the Vineyard Gazette.
Andrews-Maltais noted Manning’s uncanny recollection of names and important dates of tribal members and ancestors, and her ambassadorship on behalf of the tribe, representing the community on many town and Island committees, commissions, and boards — “always ensuring that tribal members had a voice,” Andrews-Maltais wrote. “She touched, and was loved and respected by so many people. She will be missed by all of us. We ask that the Creator help ease the sorrow of her family and friends, and replace that sadness with the innumerable number of happy memories and laughter which June left us to remember her.”
Reached by phone Tuesday, Aquinnah town administrator Jeff Madison said it’s a sad day for the Wampanoag community and the town of Aquinnah. “June was a respected elder and a keeper of a lot of knowledge that she would regularly share. That part of her life will be sorely missed by all of us who valued that. We are all touched by June’s passing,” Madison said.
Select board member Juli Vanderhoop said the dedication Manning showed to her community constituted her entire being, and everyone around her knew how proud she was to be a member of the Wampanoag tribe, and an active supporter of the town. “To lose this elder in the community is a pretty huge blow to a lot of people. Today, I am feeling for the family, and I can’t wait to get home and gather with them so we can all celebrate her life together,” Vanderhoop said.
Just from spending time with Manning, Vanderhoop said, she has learned so much about the history of the Island and of Wampanoag culture. “The Manning family was always a large part of industry in town — fishing and other things. They knew the people, and the fact that June had picked up genealogy, she knew these families, she talked with them, and she carried so much of that knowledge and wisdom throughout her life,” Vanderhoop said.
Having worn so many different hats on the Vineyard, Vanderhoop said, Manning will be missed on many fronts, and everyone who heads to the town hall to vote or take part in a town meeting will miss her welcoming presence, greeting townspeople as they enter.
“She was always the first one we would see at any voting polls — she would be there helping out all day and all night long, every single time. It will be a sad day when we all have to go back into the town hall for a town meeting or a vote and have her not be there, but we will carry her spirit and her memory always,” Vanderhoop said.
Berta Welch, speaking from her role as president of the Aquinnah Cultural Center board of directors, said Manning reached many different levels of life on the Vineyard, but she always held her fierce advocacy for Wampanoag culture, history, and rights of indigenous people at the core of all she did. “Those were the things she truly believed in, and lived her life as a Wampanoag mother, grandmother, and elder,” Welch said.
Manning was also a major part of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. She served on the museum board of directors since 2013, and was a member of the collections committee, the programming committee, and the development committee.
According to Martha’s Vineyard Museum executive director Heather Seger, Manning was always engaged as a board member, and cherished her role as tribal historian. “She has always been an incredible resource for the museum, but more than anything, we will miss her for her kindness, her wit, and her commitment to doing the important work we do here,” Seger said. “She loved us, and we loved her. The Island will be hurting today.”
Oral history curator at the museum Linsey Lee said Manning was passionate, of strong opinion, loving, and kind.
She noted how much Manning’s Wampanoag heritage meant to her, and how the stories, the skills, the beauty, and the challenges of the indigenous nation were a strong source of pride for her. “All these things, and a sense of community bound by family and rich culture,” Lee said.
According to Lee, Manning was an educator of young people, and she always took the opportunity to pass on her wisdom and historical knowledge to younger tribal members.
Although she lived and thrived in other places, Lee said, Manning’s home was always the Vineyard, and her essence was always Aquinnah. “She was a good friend, and it was always such a joy to run into her as she traveled around the Vineyard, appearing absolutely everywhere,” Lee said.
Ever since the museum was called the Dukes County Historical Society, Manning was there if people needed information on all things Aquinnah, and she would regularly volunteer her time to help Lee find interesting people to interview, and transcribe interviews for her.
“Her generosity was amazing, her sense of humor was amazing,” Lee said. “I think we all have to say with huge sadness a goodbye to a good friend, and a true child of the Vineyard/Noepe.”
A graveside service for Manning will be held at a time and date to be announced.