Indigenous Peoples Day A celebration and an education

In 2019, the Marblehead Indigenous Peoples Day Committee held its first Indigenous Peoples Day celebration intending to educate others and celebrate Indigenous people and their culture. Four years later, the town is continuing that goal.

Marblehead’s fifth annual Indigenous Peoples Day celebration was held at the Jeremiah Lee Mansion Gardens Monday, Oct. 9. The event was organized with the help from a grant courtesy of the Marblehead Cultural Council in collaboration with the Marblehead Museum.

Since its inception, the celebration has featured a number of performers from different Indigenous tribes and nations. This year, performances were done by Eastern Suns Drummers and dancers of the Mashpee Wampanoag Nation.

Keon Jackson, whose traditional name is “Sookunon,” which translates to rain, is a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Nation and was one of the dancers performing at this year’s event. He said that by doing these demonstrations, both in Marblehead and other communities, he hopes to spread awareness about how the Mashpee Wampanoag people continue to live on today.

“My main goal as a Wampanoag person now is to show that we’re still here and be able to do events like this, especially on Indigenous Peoples Day, especially in this state, where people think we’re gone,” Jackson said.

The Wampanoags were the tribe that started the Thanksgiving tradition with the Pilgrims in 1621. Today, he said that most tribe members, including himself, are born and raised on reservations. Though not everyone in the tribe is related, they all belong to the Mashpee Wampanoag people, which he said creates a “rich” culture.

“Even though we’re in modern-day society, we’re really tight-knit,” Jackson said. “For me, being born into my tribe, I’ve always just been around things like this, people showing appreciation for our culture, and I guess I kind of just adapted to doing the same thing naturally.”

Indigenous Peoples Day Committee Chair Leah Bokenkamp said that the committee was started to replace the holiday’s previous name, Columbus Day. The committee has also worked with Indigenous people to create change at the state level.

“That was how it all started, to educate the community to figure out how to make this change come about,” Bokenkamp said.

She also credited Marblehead Museum Director Lauren McCormack, who Bokenkamp said has been extremely knowledgeable and an integral part of making the celebrations happen. Bokenkamp added that she hopes to accomplish more each year to celebrate Indigenous people.

“I think we would love to dig in a little bit deeper and connect with some other people in the community who may be interested,” Bokenkamp added.