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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

20th Anniversary of MCNAA - We Honor "Faces" All Around Us

The Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness (MCNAA) celebrated twenty successful years on March 29, 2009. How do we mark time? Birth, marriage, divorce, special events, tragedies, educational degrees, jobs, and deaths are just some of the ways. Through it all we have friends, family, and community. We are all connected and our community supports us as we pass through days and nights, weeks, months, and years. Twenty years ago, most of us did not have an email address and there was no affordable Internet! Can you even remember that time? It was also a few years before 1992, the 500-year anniversary of that lost sailor named Columbus. No one really knew about my nation (I had not even seen the word in print until I entered college). Twenty years ago, I had just finished college, recently been married (now divorced), had no children, and had very little connection to other Arawak people (the people who helped that sailor survive). Now I can connect with Arawak and Taino people all over the country. My indigenous community is only a keyboard click away. Life has surely changed! These are great times in which we are living.

Anniversaries bring out thoughts and memories, and they also bring out faces. That is how I remember the twentieth anniversary of the birth of MCNAA. Young faces and the elder faces, familiar and new faces sitting in groups of ten around tables lined in rows, filling the entire space. What a wonderful way to honor the MCNAA. Faces all around us… in person, on photo displays, in an electronic slide show, and in the program booklet.

Dr. Bert Waters said in his keynote that success is all around us. The fact that we as Native Americans have our ceremonies, a Repatriation Act, and laws to protect our Native children is due to a long line of visionaries who include Metacom, Wovoka, Big Foot, and our own visionary, Slow Turtle. His vision is embodied in what we were celebrating. Dr. Waters went on to mention many visionaries. Nanepashemet inspired us just by being and doing. He was an urban Indian who showed us a way in this modern world. Frank James was an Aquinnah Wampanoag who wrote a speech in the early seventies to be read on Thanksgiving Day in Plymouth. He submitted it ahead of time and was denied permission to give the speech, but that did not stop it from being shared over and over in the years ahead and establishing the “National Day of Mourning.” For twenty years, the head of the visionary Metacom was displayed on a stake, but it took 350 years for a plaque explaining the story to be placed on the same spot. Thankfully, things change and people can learn the more accurate story.

Dr. Waters pointed out that visionaries lead by example and actions. Chief Lopez, Barrack Obama, and Cedric Cromwell are all examples. Jim Peters is the executive director for Native American affairs. Throughout it all, Native Americans are dancing at Pow Wow, staying connected to traditions and leading by example. Annawon, the Edmund brothers, Eastern Sun, Linda Coombs, and Mother Bear have all been integral in keeping the spirit of our ancestors alive and educating the public about our strength as a traditional and contemporary people. He closed by reminding us that Burne Stanley-Peters is the reason we are here, her organization, and the events it sponsors give us the opportunity to be our whole selves. Dr. Waters ended his talk by challenging the Massachusetts Natives to form a federation.

For me, just hearing all those names (I apologize for missing some in this retelling) brought their image and stories to my mind. It brought their power, their good medicine, and their vision into the present and reminded me of the adáge: We’re not where we want to be, but we sure are not where we were!

I agree with Dr. Waters that we’ve lost the lands of our ancestors, the language of our elders, many lessons from our culture, but we can live, love, and relearn what is in our blood and our roots as we stand on the soft, spring soil of our Earth Mother. We all hold a vision for the next seven generations.

The Advisory Board was looking good (Anne, Len, Sly Fox, Autoquay, and Eva).

Anne Foxx was honored for her many years of contributing to the organization.