A Reason to Celebrate: The Mashpee Wampanoag Powwow Returns Home


20180707_183120For millennia, the Mashpee Wampanoag held their annual summer powwow in a wooded glade on the southern tip of Cape Cod. But in recent years, the celebration was held on non-tribal lands as the Wampanoag fought for official recognition as a sovereign indigenous nation and the right to have their own reservation. Progress was made in 2007 when the tribe achieved federal recognition, but it wasn’t until 2015 that Washington allocated 150 acres of land in Mashpee and 170 acres of land in Taunton to be dedicated as the Mashpee Wampanoag reservation.

Three years later, on the weekend of July 6-8, 2018, the Mashpee Wampanoag — the People of the First Light — finally welcomed their powwow home. The excitement and sense of accomplishment was palpable as hundreds of members of the Native community from across North America came together to celebrate a watershed moment in the reclamation of cultural identity and reaffirmation of tribal sovereignty. The non-Native community was also invited to the all-are-welcome event to gain an understanding of the original inhabitants of the Americas and to share in the common joy.

As ever, the highlight was at sunset on the second day when the crowds were treated to the competitive ceremonial game of fireball. Unique to the Wampanoag, fireball can be best described to the non-initiated as rugby union with a flaming ball and goal posts that are also on fire. The players pass the ball, run with it, kick it and do whatever they can to transport it over the opposing line. The game is over once the goalposts burn out.

Of course, no powwow would be complete without the talents of traditional dancers, and in 2018, the Mashpee hosted some of the finest dancers on the circuit. Eastern Men’s Traditional War was a particular crowd-pleaser, with the Shawl Dancers and Fancy Dancers also creating a stir among the gathered masses.

The Mashpee Wampanoag powwow will be held again next year over the 4th of July weekend, but in 2019 there will be another reason to celebrate. Twelve months from now, the Mashpee will see the continuation of their powwow being held on tribal land in back-to-back years for the first time in many generations.

And that’s quite the reason to celebrate, don’t you think?

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