Aquinnah Tribe

1. Historical information about the culture

For at least 10,000 years, Wampanoag people have lived in what is now known as Massachusetts and Rhode Island. More specifically, they live in Aquinnah (Gay Head) and throughout the island Noepe (Martha’s Vineyard). Science shows that it was the last great North American glacier that began to retreat 10,000 years ago that left behind boulders, sand, and clay that now make up the islands such as Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The Aquinnah Wampanoag share a belief that a giant, called Moshup, created Noepe and neighboring islands.
They also believe that Moshup taught Wampanoag people how to fish and catch whales. Traditionally their economy was based off of fishing and agriculture, Wampanoag people were also known to be hunter-gatherers. Along with fish, they would eat things such as maize, beans, and squash.
Wampanoag people lived in Wetus, domed shaped huts made out of sticks and grass. During the summer, villages were concentrated near the coast in order to take advantage of fishing. After harvest, Wampanoag moved inland, separating into winter hunting camps that were made up of extended family members. The hunting camps usually had a defined territory that helped avoid conflict. These territories were passed down from father to son, and even though it created a type of ownership, most people were open to sharing and gaining permission to hunt on someone else’s land was not too difficult.
Wampanoag means “eastern people”. They spoke a language called Alonquin, which is similar, and sometimes called Massachusett or Natick. This language has been extict since the 1800’s but there has recently been a move to revive it based on existing texts. 

"Wampanoag." Wampanoag. Ed. Lee Sultzman. Web. 10 Mar. 2015. <>.
"Wampanoag Indians." History of the Wampanoag Indians., 1 Jan. 1995. Web. 11 Mar. 2015. <>.
"Wampanoag Tribe - History & Culture." Wampanoag Tribe - History & Culture. Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah). Web. 10 Mar. 2015. <>.



2. Colonial experience of the culture

The Aquinnah tribe, otherwise known as the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head first came into contact with colonialists during the 1500s when the Pilgrims first came over on the Mayflower. Most of their first encounters with the colonists were said to be a friendly ones, but some were not. It was said that, to make more money, European captains took them as prisoners and sold them as slaves. One of these captains was named Thomas Hunt. He took several in 1614 and sold them in Spain. One man that Thomas Hunt captured managed to get himself back home only to find that an epidemic had killed everyone in his village. Despite all that happened to him, he took it upon himself to help the "Pilgrims" that first came over to the “New World” and settled where his village once was. He taught them how to survive in the wilderness, and in do so, it was said that he unknowingly guaranteed the destruction of his own people.
            In 1621, the Aquinnah tribe signed a treaty with the colonists that gave the colonists 12,000 acres of land. This made the colonists grateful enough to invite the native people to the first harvest, which was the first Thanksgiving. Even after the colonists fought another tribe, the Aquinnah people and the colonists still had their friendship going strong, that is until Militant Puritans, who were basically soldiers and merchants, came over to this “New World”. After they came over, the colonists tried to convert the native population. If they succeed, they would change everything about the Aquinnah and their culture, and, sadly, their chief fell prey and changed his sons’ names to something more English. His oldest son, who took over charge for the tribe for a short period of time, was deemed too “independent” by the English so they invited him over and poisoned him. After that, the younger brother took charge of the tribe.
            After he took charge of the tribe, Philip changed the native people’s attitude towards the English. He made it his mission to stop further expansion of the colonists, and he did this by enlisting other tribes for help. Even though the English knew what was coming, “King Philip” had an uprising planned for the spring of 1676, and this started a war, which was named King Philip’s war. This hurt all tribes in the area, even neutral tribes that decided to help the Aquinnah with supplies, because the English deemed almost all tribes as enemies.  The Aquinnah lost this war and the aftereffects of it were brutal for the people, because only 400 survived.
            Today, the tribe has trust lands that are in the southwest area of Martha’s Vineyard Island.  They got these lands by the 1987 Settlement Act with the federal government, and they were acknowledged as a tribe on April 10, 1987. They also have a Tribal Governance, which exists to make sure that their culture is preserved.



"Wampanoag Tribe - History & Culture." Wampanoag Tribe - History & Culture. Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah). Web. 10 Mar. 2015. <>.

"Wampanoag." Wampanoag. Ed. Lee Sultzman. Web. 10 Mar. 2015. <>.


3. Contemporary developments or issues

            The Aquinnah tribe of Massachusetts has made cultural preservation and revitalization a very high priority. In order to understand the current state of the cultural efforts of the Aquinnah tribe, the tribal government and cultural and educational programs must be examined.
            The main group responsible for establishing and running these programs is the Wampanoag Tribal Council of Gay Head, Inc. This council is a popularly elected group of ten people, first established in 1972. Its main goal is to preserve and continue Aquinnah history and culture. In line with this goal, the council managed to secure federal recognition of the tribe in 1987 as well as the return of 485 acres of tribal lands also in 1987.
            Among the many programs established by the Aquinnah tribe, there are efforts to protect the language, to provide academic scholarships to members of the tribe seeking higher education, and to teach local tribal and non-tribal children about Aquinnah customs and history.
            The language of the Aquinnah is called Wôpanâak and is linguistically descended from proto-Algonquian, the mother language of East coast Native Americans. It is interesting to note that the first book published on North American soil was the Bible translated to Wôpanâak. Most of the preservation efforts are headed by the Joint Language Reclamation Committee composed of members of the Aquinnah, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribes and Assonet Band. With the help of various linguistic experts, a book was published in 1988 called “Native Writings in Massachusetts” that established a common alphabet and writing system for the language.
            There are a number of different scholarships available to members of the Aquinnah tribe who are trying to obtain a higher education and two- and four-year institutions. One is the Higher Education Scholarship Program, which was established by the council in order to provide financial aid to members of the tribe trying to attend college. There are also two more general scholarships awarded by various Native American groups called the Thanksgiving Day Award, awarded by the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants in recognition of the Wampanoag and Aquinnah's aid to the Pilgrims and the United South and Eastern Tribes Scholarship. Clearly, the Aquinnah and many other Native American tribes greatly value education and try to make it available to members of their tribes.
            The Aquinnah tribe also has a couple of programs designed to teach young members of the tribe and even just people that live on the island about Aquinnah traditions and history. There is a Summer Cultural Education Program which teaches children from the tribe about a plethora of cultural practices including weaving, wampum making, drumming, dancing, traditional pottery, games, storytelling, and traditional foods. The tribe also has an outreach program, where instructors visit local schools and help teach units on agriculture (specifically corn, beans, and squash), celebrations and oral history designed for 3rd to 8th graders.
            Through language revitalization, academic scholarships, and educational outreach, the Aquinnah tribe of Massachusetts has made cultural preservation and promotion a large part of the tribe's current activities. The efforts of the tribal council in particular have made a strong impact on the continuation of Aquinnah culture.

"Wampanoag Tribe - Education." Wampanoag Tribe - Education. Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah). Web. 11 Mar. 2015. <>