From Melissa Ferretti, Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe Chairwoman
The Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe celebrated its rich and diverse culture, traditions, values, and histories of the Wampanoag People of Plymouth Massachusetts with a traditional Mishoon burn on the banks of Great Herring Pond.
What is a Mishoon (Muhsh8n)?
For thousands of years, the use and burning of a mishoon (muhsh8n) or dugout canoe has been a traditional, cultural practice used by indigenous tribes throughout New England to access and fish our ancient waterways. Once a suitable log is obtained, hot coals are heaped upon it, and then the charred wood is carefully scraped out to form the body of the mishoon.
Melissa Ferretti, Tribal Chairwoman, said the Mishoon burn involved the efforts of so many people, including members of their Wampanoag tribe and other tribes as well. There was much planning ahead of time, including Melissa writing a grant, then setting up the campsite and tending to the burning 24 hours a day for a week.
Last week as rain poured down at the site of the mishoon burn, Taylor Harding Stasis, a member of the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe, sighed in relief. The brief shower was a welcome respite as waves of heat emitted from the slow simmering flame burning through a 20-foot piece of white pine.
“Traditionally, our boats are our lifelines. You need a boat to go fish, to whale,” she said. “For us to be able to do this and eventually sail on our waters is bigger than us. Because it’s also about our ancestors who died before us so we could still have this.”
Jennifer Salt, another tribal member, along with Harding Stasis met with Andre “Strong Bear Heart” Gaines, a member of the Nipmuc Tribe in a forest in Nipmuc Territory in Ware to choose the tree. Gaines is co-founder of No Loose Braids, a Nipmuc-led organization that works to bring Eastern Woodland tribal communities together through the cultural revitalization of traditional practices.
When the group found the white pine that would be used for the Herring Pond burn, the first thing Salt and Harding Stasis did was give an offering of tobacco and primrose. They also brought ash and wood burn from fires that have previously been held for tribal members who have died. So we had all our ancestors with us that have passed on.”
“When the burn is complete, tribal members will use the mishoon to move around local waters surrounding three parcels of land that were set aside for the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe in 1675”, said Ferretti. “The lot we are on (Meetinghouse Lot) was 200 acres at one time; the Great Lot across the pond was 2,600 (acres); and the Herring River lot that borders South Plymouth and Bournedale was 400 acres.”
The Meetinghouse Lot, where the mishoon was burning, has been held in tribal hands since 1675, said Brenda Weston, a tribal elder and descendant of Maria Ellis who owned the property as part of the lot that was given to her family.
“This is the first time we’ve done this (the mishoon burn) here. it’s very exciting,” said Weston. “We wanted to show our community that we can do this,” she said. “This is living history and so important to be in kinship within the bigger Wampanoag nation.”
On Sunday, September 3rd, the tribe held a ceremony with prayers over the mishoon and smudging of all participants. Then with the strength of many they rolled the canoe over logs and into Great Herring Pond for its maiden voyage with great celebration.
This was made possible with the generous support of Native Youth Empowerment Foundation & MASS Cultural Council.
Special thanks to our Tribal Citizen, Brenda Weston, and her husband, Larry, for hosting this event on the Tribal homelands.