Special to Native News Online
September 1621: The previous year, 102 passengers and 26 crew members loaded a cargo ship, The Mayflower, captained by Christoper Jones chartered for New York. The ship measures roughly 80’ long x 24’ wide containing three decks (upper and gun respectively) and a 5’5” hold. As such, it should not be fit for human transport. Despite this, The Mayflower, initially, sets sail along with The Speedwell on August 15th 1620 but both ships return to England when The Speedwell proves too leaky. The Mayflower embarks alone on September 6th. Weather does not permit due course and The Mayflower is rerouted to Plymouth, Massachusetts. Their first winter is spent aboard the ship as they ready their homes. Over half perish. Those who survive do so with the aid of 90 Wampanoag. One of the Wampanoag, Squanto, is instrumental in arranging a treaty between his people and The Mayflower passengers.
A feast is planned to commemorate the treaty. As yet, this is not a religious thanksgiving nor is it a summer harvest celebration. The feast is set to include deer, fowl and other wild game. On the eve of their momentous, perpetually exalted and utterly sensationalized dinner, a small group of Wampanoag, including Chief Massasoit and Squanto, gather to prepare their kills…
Massasoit: Good work for the evening. Let’s get these ready for the morning.
Wampanoag 2: What did you have in mind?
Wampanoag 1: Anything’s too good for those people if you ask me—
Squanto: Luckily, no one did. If we had, we’d ask how to lose a crop and/or set a useless trap.
Wampanoag 3: Look at the white man’s champion.
Wampanoag 1: Yes, Squanto, do regale us with another tale…
Massasoit: I believe we’ve heard quite sufficient for a
Wampanoag 2: Begging Massasoit’s pardon, I’m inclined to agree. Maybe we were too hasty with this treaty.
Massasoit: Is that a fact? I never doubted you all have your own thoughts and feelings. Pray thee Wampanoag, do tell; let us hear these thoughts once and for all.
Wampanoag 1: They will destroy us. Everything we know and have and hold dear. Our elders and ancestors weep in the great hereafter. This treaty is nothing we can or should abide. The savages will be our destruction.
Wampanoag 3: These white men are a pestilence, punishment for any myriad of sins and sacred omissions. Squanto has sold us to them to quench his own thirst for power. He wants to take control with the aid of his precious white man.
Wampanoag 2: I do not agree with such harsh words against Squanto but I do not see how any of this is in our own best interests. We have, and must, always think of ourselves. First and foremost, we must think of our future, the young. We mustn’t squander what we have and what is rightly ours. This white man cannot possibly understand such thinking. Look at the squalor and filth and mire in which they live.
Squanto: The three of you speak as though experts, as if you’d known such things all your lives. However, your unflappable certainty belies your actual experience or even working knowledge. You talk as if they are completely different from us.
Wampanoag 2: You cannot possibly say they are us or even remotely akin to us. Not by far. All they have here, they owe to us completely. We cannot let them think this mere goodwill. They must pay their debt.
Squanto: Not nearly what I said at all. My point was they are still human. They are of this earth. Do we not teach the little ones all of us are molded and bestowed by the Creator?
Wampanoag 1: And what can they possibly know of creation and the Creator?
Wampanoag 3: Heathens, the lot of them.
Wampanoag 2: Let them have their god. We have our own. Have you seen theirs, what and to whom they pray, their places of worship, the way they worship? Perpendicular slabs of wood…let’s be reasonable.
Wampanoag 3: Indeed. I mean, come on get serious.
Squanto: [Smiling] That’s not…exactly it but that is hardly the point.
Massasoit: We have made treaties with those who worship other gods. You do not make treaties with a god.
Wampanoag 2: But what are we letting on our land and near our children?
Wampanoag 1: No way to tell what else they’re bringing here, what barbaric customs and untold disease.
Wampanoag 3: The very end of us as we know it to be.
Squanto: For the brave, or at least those that refer to themselves as such, you sound as cowards. Fearful in the face of the unknown. Ready to scapegoat others as the source of their trouble and anxiety. To give up so much of yourself, letting another control your thoughts, feelings. I ask, yet again, is this what we should teach our little ones? Fear comes from within. You all have said a great deal of words when one could surmise, and you yourselves, summarize in a single word or phrase. Apprehension is one thing, skepticism an absolute necessity but outright fear mongering should hold no place in Wampanoag life. Not the Wampanoag way as I was taught and as I know it. We are greater than such small, puny thinking. Having met and known the white men and women, having walked and talked among them, I know firsthand they are governed by fear. Fear is their true and living god. Their god crushes, kills, destroys them. From the moment of birth until their dying breath, they live in constant fear, anxiety and agitation of divine punishment. Consequently, they are not one with their world, unrepentantly at odds with their environment and surroundings. Natural enemies to that which birthed them. Forests are cleared rather than living in conjunction with the trees. Seeds are planted and reaped, hunts are carried out not to live but for gain, to garner glory and profit.
Massasoit: Thank you Squanto but that will do. [Briefly muses] Any and all differences are apparent to even the most dimwitted of us and belaboring the point or overstating the obvious does not make one exceptionally brilliant. The three of you, no doubt sincere in your opposition, offer little to nothing other than they are not we so why deal with them? While I can say I follow the logic, I cannot fully grasp your rationale of thought. Do you honestly propose that the only relations we have be amidst ourselves, limit interaction to only those like us and only make war with those unlike us? Is any such thinking a legitimately viable option or even a remotely realistic line of reasoning? More importantly, and most disconcerting, why do you three peddle in fear? Why do you so profusely insist upon others matching your own fear? You fancy yourselves brave, thoughtful but what sort of bravery do you actually profess? Leave it to them to live in fear. Such fear poisons and rots and eats the soul. It is bottomless, swallows one whole. We will abide this agreement because it has been made. If they break their word, that will be their damnation. It will reflect on them, not us. That is how we must distinguish ourselves, how we must move forward. Survival cannot merely be based in terror. Living, thriving, growing takes courage, fight, effort, perseverance. Grit. That is how our people will last. I have no doubt that is how all humanity can last.
Chief Massasoit finishes and with a calm hand, dismisses his fellow Wampanoag as each silently completes their prep work and files out. The chief extinguishes the flame and remains behind, taking another brief contemplative moment as the troublesome embers die down. Chief Massasoit walks out to an indifferent starlit night. He gazes upward returning home, certain of his steps. Ready for an infinitely approaching new day.
Joel Rickert (Potawatomi) is a freelance writer and a graphic designer. He resides in Chicago.